Friday, September 9, 2016

November 2016 Ballot: Yes on 57

My colleagues and I at UC Hastings made a series of neutral, informational videos about the propositions on the November ballot. Here's the one about Prop 57:

For readers of this blog, I'm also making endorsements. It should be a resounding YES on 57, and here's why.

The first part of Prop. 57 is a no-brainer: who do you trust more with the decision to prosecute juveniles in adult court--a judge after a fitness hearing or a prosecutor? We've trusted prosecutors since we adopted Prop. 21 in 2000. We're talking about thousands of cases here, but even one case of a young person unnecessarily doing time in an environment full of older people should be avoided. What we know about juveniles in adult institutions (which is not a lot, because it's difficult to study) is disconcerting: suicide rates and vulnerability to abuse, assaults, and victimization. Moreover, when this decision is left to prosecutors, there are big differences between the different counties. Juvenile offenders should not be political pawns.

The second part requires a bit more unpacking, but also turns out to be a no-brainer. A typical felony sentence in California consists of the basic sentence for the offense plus a series of "enhancements" added in bills and voter initiatives over the years. Our determinate sentencing allow for people's release from state prison after they complete most of their entire sentence, including the enhancements--which can sometimes double or even triple the original sentence. Most folks don't come up for a parole hearing: California holds parole hearings only for lifers.

If Prop. 57 passes, some version of parole hearing will be returned to the system and applied to non-lifers as well. The idea is to award nonviolent felons doing time in prison (not a big population since Realignment and Prop 47) a parole hearing after their base sentence is completed. The proposition requires that CDCR adopt regulations about rehabilitation programming and the worth of doing programs in "good credit" days that count toward early release. So, while its target population isn't big and some of the details on how exactly these parole hearings will be held are still obscure, a few things are clear: This will not result in more incarceration, and it will award release to people whose records show them to be rehabilitated. At worst, it'll be an ineffectual proposition (albeit not a harmful one). But if implemented correctly, it could liberate some folks from the Byzantine maze of enhancements that leads to truly ridiculous sentences.

Some voters might be wondering whether Prop. 57 violates the single subject rule. The best two readings I can recommend on this are Michael Gilbert's 2006 paper and his excellent 2011 followup. Using an ingenious research design, Gilbert finds that our natural tendency is not to enforce this rule when proposition are more or less on the same topic. His analysis with Robert Cooter also suggests that there's positive value in "bundling" similar issues in one proposition.

The "bundling" of juvenile and parole here is relatively benign. Remember Marsy's Law in 2009? The one where you thought you voted to support victims and you actually voted to extend the period between parole hearings? This one's not like that. These two issues make the system more deliberative and personalized, things of which we could use more, and if well implemented can save lives (and dollars.) So, vote yes on 57.

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