It's pretty early to start talking about these, n'est ces pas? But it's not too early to start thinking about the November election as an opportunity for positive change. Here is a roster of the statewide propositions addressing criminal justice issues, with some initial thoughts. We will take each in turn in the coming weeks.
YES on 57: Civil and Criminal Trials
This is the Jerry Brown proposition, which essentially does two things: takes the authority to file charges against juveniles out of the hands of prosecutors and places it back in the hands of judges (this bit is a no-brainer. OF COURSE it's a good idea) and offers incarcerated folks the opportunity to earn more good credits on their path to release, resuscitating some version of parole for non-lifers. As to the latter part, the devil's in the details, but even at its worst, it won't make people's sentences worse than they are now. There's nothing to lose by saying yes, and moreover, any day someone with a proven rehabilitation record spends outside, working, paying taxes, and quietly living his/her life, is not a day you pay taxes to house him/her.
YES on 62: Death Penalty Repeal
We came close in 2012, and this is our chance to finally join the industrialized Western world and get rid of a punishment that does not serve us well. If you're philosophically inclined, ask yourself what you think about state-sanctioned killings. If you dislike miscarriages of justice, ask yourself how comfortable you are with executing innocent people. If you feel the system is racially biased, here's one classic setting where that is abundantly clear. And if none of these things matter to you, perhaps, like me, you think that $150 million a year is a pretty extreme expenditure for keeping 750 old and sick folks in a dilapidated facility, paying for their endless appeals and habeas, and letting them, for the most part, die of natural causes. Remember: you are not voting about the philosophical appeal of a theoretical death penalty, but rather about the ridiculously expensive, ineffectual, and non-deterrent process we have now in place. Let's say goodbye to this archaic festival of waste and punitivism once and for all.
YES on 64: Marijuana
This legalization proposition is a considerable improvement over its 2010 predecessor. That one was imperfect, and as you recall, I recommended a "yes" despite of its imperfections, because whatever we do, we can't go on doing what we're doing now. Arrests, trials, and convictions, have not impacted the marijuana market at all. Taxation and regulation might--if we do a clever job at setting price points and the appropriate sales tax. Two things have changed since 2010 that make this one a stronger pitch for you: the feds have fairly consistently stayed out of the business of states that legalized recreational marijuana, and we have the experience of five states who legalized and the sky didn't fall down. There are some complicated implications that this proposition might have on marijuana use rates, and we will discuss them in the weeks to come--as well as the reasons why this is of no particular concern in California.
NO on 66: Death Penalty Reform
This is the District Attorneys' Association's horrible response to 62, which consists of something similar to what happened in Florida a few years ago. The idea is that the death penalty is, indeed, broken, but that it can be reformed, and by taking away important constitutional protections, and "streamlining" (read: removing) options for post-conviction relief we can "cure" the delays in its administration and save a bit. This is only a good option if you are indifferent to the risk of executing innocent people or don't care much for state misconduct, which is sure to result from it--it might be cheaper, but also considerably more cruel and stupid. If you feel that the death penalty is too costly or cumbersome, let's get rid of it altogether, rather than serve a barbaric version of it with a side order of miscarriage of justice. NO NO NO.