This week California – the state that passed the Three Strikes Law in 1994 – voted 59 to 41 percent in favor of Proposition 47. Proposition 47 will reclassify six non-violent felonies as misdemeanors and redirect the savings in prison spending toward substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling and education.
Is this a movement moment for the long-running campaign to end mass incarceration? There does seem to be a lot of positive activity on the issue. And not just in California.
“Fair Chance Hiring Policies”—also known as “Ban the Box” policies—now cover 70 cities and counties, and 12 states, according to the National Employment Law Project. These policies delay consideration of a person’s conviction history until later in the hiring process, making it easier for those who have felonies on their record to find employment. Big retailers, such as Target, have also banned the box.
“A lot of people want to make changes but they don’t know where to go,” said Tiesha Speights on the afternoon of Election Day. So Tiesha went to the people, knocking on doors in Long Beach on behalf of Proposition 47, the California ballot initiative written to reduce the penalties for low-level crimes that involve less than $950, from felony levels to misdemeanors. Speights had been hustling block-by-block for the “Yes on 47” campaign for three weeks. Her work and the canvassing efforts of countless others paid off – Prop. 47 would pass handily Tuesday by a 58.5 percent to 41.5 percent margin.
Speights deeply connected with the measure, which permits re-sentencing for those currently serving a prison term for any of the offenses that the initiative reduces to misdemeanors, including forgery, theft, minor drug offenses and shoplifting. Some 10,000 inmates would be eligible to have their sentences reconsidered.
There they go again.
Last Saturday, three days before the election, the Los Angeles Times ran a somewhat bewildering piece about Proposition 47, the California state ballot initiative that seeks to de-felonize certain nonviolent crimes that are currently counted toward a convict’s three-strike tally.
“Prop. 47 puts state at center of a national push for sentencing reform,” ran the feature’s headline on the Times’ website. (“Ground Zero for Penal Reform,” was the print version’s more succinct headline.) And, sure enough, for the first 300 words the piece is pretty much a description of Prop. 47, while noting its major funders are philanthropist George Soros and several liberal foundations. Then, however, in the seventh paragraph (a jump page in the print edition), we get what the Times really wants to say:
The coordination by a few wealthy foundations to change public policy represents a legitimate but worrying form of political influence,
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When New York rapper Jay-Z played the Rose Bowl last summer, he surprised 90,000 concertgoers by making a political statement. Before launching into his hit “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),” he urged fans to vote for a California ballot initiative that would dramatically reduce the state’s prison population and re-direct money into education and treatment programs.
“Prop 47, California! Build more schools, less prisons!” he exhorted.
A few weeks later, two other public figures delivered a similar rap, albeit in a different forum. In a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece, Newt Gingrich, the Republican politician, and B. Wayne Hughes Jr., a conservative Christian businessman, similarly urged Californians to end bloated spending on prisons and reverse tough-on-crime policies that they say have failed to significantly improve public safety. Among other things, Gingrich and Hughes pointed out that California now spends $62,396 per prisoner each year,