Voter Guide: Criminal Justice Reform Measures

Voter Guide: Criminal Justice Reform Measures

Three measures on the California ballot provide voters with opportunities to help reform our broken justice and prison systems.  And one proposition is an attempt to make things worse.


YES on Prop 62: Repeal the Death Penalty

Simply put, we believe capital punishment is morally wrong.  The state should not be in the business of killing people.  However, regardless of our genuinely held moral positions on the death penalty, there is ample evidence that it is ineffective, and often misapplied.  Academic studies have found little or no link between the death penalty and crime deterrence, and there is ample evidence suggesting that innocent people have been executed in the United States.  Moreover, recent cases of botched executions only emphasizes the serious risks, and potential for mistakes in implementing the death penalty.

Even the slightest risk of executing an innocent person should be reason enough to repeal the death penalty, but in California maintaining capital punishment is also exhorbitantly expensive.  A 2011 study found that maintaining the death penalty costs the state $184 million per year more than if death row inmates were sentenced to life in prison.  This represents the added costs for capital trials, security on death row, and legal representation at trial and during the necessarily lengthy and exhaustive appeals process.

Prop 62 would repeal the death penalty, replacing it with life in prison without the possibility of parole, and requires those prisoners to work and pay restitution to victims families.  Instead of private cells in expensive death row facilities, current inmates would be housed with other maximum-security inmates, and would be required to work in accordance with state corrections policy.

Repealing the death penalty is the right thing to do.  We recommend a YES vote on Proposition 62.


NO on Prop 66: Reckless Attempt to Speed Up the Death Penalty

Prop 66 takes everything that is already wrong with the death penalty (see above) and makes it worse.  In a blood-thirsty attempt to reduce costs and speed up executions, Prop 66 redirects death penalty petitions to already overburdened trial courts, places an arbitrary time limit on the appeals process, limits the introduction of new evidence, and exempts prison officials from existing regulations for developing humane execution methods.  Death penalty appeals need to take time and allow new evidence to ensure innocent people are not executed.  Placing arbitrary timelines and artificial restrictions on evidence increases the likelihood of executing innocent people.  And eliminating regulations on execution procedures practically guarantees more botched executions like those we saw in Ohio, Oklahoma, and Arizona in 2014.

Prop 66 is inhumane and dangerous.  Vote NO.


YES on Prop 57: Parole and Juvenile Justice Reform

California’s prisons are dangerously overcrowded, and various prisons have been found to have conditions that violate inmates’ rights, including a health care system so deficient the U.S. Supreme Court deemed it cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.  Voters have provided some relief for these problems, with the repeal of the “three strikes” law in 2012, and reclassification of some nonviolent offenses in 2014.  Now voters have another chance to help reform a broken criminal justice system with Prop 57, which increases parole opportunities for nonviolent offenders and requires judges, instead of prosecutors, to determine whether juvenile defendants are tried as adults.  The proposition also allows for sentence credits for good behavior, as well as rehabilitation and educational achievements.

Criminal sentencing practices disproportionately impact people of color, and prison overcrowding and mass incarceration lead to more crime, not less.  Our current prison system acts as a training ground for criminals to become better criminals, and a recruitment center for gangs.  Instead, our criminal justice system needs a greater emphasis on helping inmates reintegrate into society.

Prop 57 is an important step toward reforming our broken criminal justice system.  We recommend a YES vote.


YES on Prop 64: Legalize Recreational Marijuana

Medical marijuana is legal in California, and non-medical possession has been decriminalized since 2011 (possession of up to one ounce is a misdemeanor offense, carrying a fine of $100 and no mandatory court appearance, similar to a traffic ticket).  The state has all but given up on trying to prevent people from using marijuana, yet it continues to perpetuate the failed “war on drugs” by prosecuting marijuana distribution.  Nonviolent drug offenses are a major cause of mass incarceration and prison overcrowding, and people of color are much more likely to be incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses, even though white people are actually more likely to sell drugs.

Colorado and Washington state grabbed headlines when both states approved voter initiatives legalizing recreational marijuana.  Despite dire predictions, neither Colorado nor Washington has seen the feared increases in teen use or traffic fatalities.  And studies have shown that smart marijuana policies, like those in Colorado, have the multiple benefits of minimizing use, decreasing black market demand, and maximizing tax revenue.

Opponents of Prop 64 say that the proposal is deeply flawed because it allows people with past drug convictions to participate in the legalized marijuana market, unlike the laws passed in Colorado and Washington.  But we contend that this is actually the best part of California’s approach.  First of all, it is flat out hypocritical to legalize marijuana, but bar the victims of the failures of prohibition from participating.  Furthermore, excluding people with distribution convictions from participating in the legal market will only perpetuate the black market, with its built in customer base and supply chain.

Legalizing recreational marijuana is the right thing to do, and Prop 64 is the right way to do it.  We recommend a YES vote.


For more information on how we decide our endorsements, read How We Look at the Ballot.


Header image by flickr user Dave Nakayama via Creative Commons, CC BY