Criminal Justice Reforms on the November Ballot

The United States has the second highest incarceration rate in the world, behind only the Seychelles Islands (in the middle of the Indian Ocean) and nearly 7 times higher than Canada and 10 times higher than Norway. and Within the United States, California’s incarceration rate is about average, twice as high as Maine and Minnesota and half as high as Louisiana. With the war on drugs, three strikes, mandatory minimum sentences, increased sentences, restrictions on judicial discretion in sentencing and a steady stream of tough on crime bills, California’s prison population increased by 500% between the early 1980s and 2000. The state built 23 new prisons, however, the rate of prison bed growth failed to keep up with rate and increasing length of incarcerations and the Supreme Court found California’s prison conditions (some prisons were at 300% of capacity) violated the US Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment – giving California a choice between building even more prisons or beginning to reform its criminal justice system. California’s spending on prisons increased at a phenomenal rate over several decades, but little attention was paid to rehabilitation and other services which would prevent recidivism when prisoners were released.

After the Supreme Court’s rulings, California chose to reduce its prison population of non-violent, non-sexual offenders. It enacted two laws: realignment and Proposition 47 which have shifted state prison populations of non-violent, non-violent and non sexual offenders to county jails (maximum incarceration of one year) and reclassified some drug offenses and minor property crimes as misdemeanors (maximum incarceration of one year) rather than felonies.

California’s prison population fell from 187% of capacity to 136% of capacity, it is now meeting the federal court’s orders. Most offenders convicted of non-violent, non-sexual offenders have shifted to county jails; the remaining prisoners are serving very long terms. There are wide disparities in incarceration rates by county; some attributable to differing demographics and some attributable to differing attitudes among local law enforcement. and

Rates of incarceration vary widely by ethnicity in California -- with African Americans incarcerated at the rate of 3 per 100, whites ate 0.45 per 100 and Hispanics at 0.75 per 100 persons.

There are four ballot initiatives on the November ballot that would further reform California’s criminal justice system: Propositions 57, 62, 64 and 66:

Proposition 57: Its goal is both to reduce recidivism and prison overcrowding. It has two provisions: 1) Judges, not District Attorneys, would decide whether to try a juvenile as an adult and 2) Prisoners convicted of non-violent crimes who participate successfully in rehabilitation programs can qualify for earlier release in the discretion of prison officials, and those who have served their full sentence for their primary offense could qualify for parole.,_Parole_for_Non-Violent_Criminals_and_Juvenile_Court_Trial_Requirements_(2016)

Supporters include: Governor Brown, LA Police Chief Charley Beck, the Democratic Party, Newt Gingrich, the Parole Officers, LA Chamber of Commerce, and the Catholic Bishops. The opponents are The Republican Party, many District Attorneys, Deputy Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

Newspaper endorsements include the Bakersfield Californian, LA Times, Sacramento Bee, Orange County Register and San Francisco Chronicle. Newspaper opposition includes the Fresno Bee, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, and San Jose Mercury News.


Proposition 62 replaces the death penalty with life in prison with no chance of parole.  California’s death penalty was held unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court in 1972, reinstated by the voters in 1978 and since then 13 murderers have been executed. California is one of 30 states that apply the death penalty. Many nations have now abolished it; 56 nations of 195 UN members still practice it.

The argument in favor is that the death penalty is virtually never applied in California and is highly costly. Supporters include: Democratic Party, Public Defenders, many attorneys, entertainers and several individuals who led the 1978 effort to reinstate the death penalty, civic organizations, criminal justice reform organizations, Catholic Church, unions and others. Opponents include: Republican Party and most law enforcement organizations and victims rights groups.,_Repeal_of_the_Death_Penalty_(2016)

Newspapers: Virtually all concur that the death penalty is ineffective and way too costly to continue and they favor life without the possibility of parole instead

This is linked to Prop 66. If both pass, the one with the most votes cancels the other out.


Proposition 66 is the law enforcement counter to Prop 62 that would repeal the death penalty. This is intended to speed up its procedures in the following ways: habeas corpus petitions are heard by the initial trial judge, 5 year time limits are imposed for all state appeals, and experienced appellate attorneys (not specialized in death penalty cases) are appointed to represent the accused.,_Death_Penalty_Procedures_(2016)

Supporters include the Republican Party, most law enforcement and victim’s rights groups. Opponents include: the Democratic Party, Public Defenders, attorneys, entertainers and several individuals who led the 1978 effort to reinstate the death penalty, civic organizations, criminal justice reform organizations, Catholic Church, unions and others. 

Newspapers: All oppose except the Record saying this takes the experienced public defenders off these capital cases, speeds up and shortens review processes in ways that may result in innocents being executed.

This is linked to Prop 62. If both pass, the one with the most votes cancels the other out.


Proposition 64 would legalize marijuana for recreational use and its cultivation. It would tax sales (15%) and cultivation ($9.25 per ounce of flowers). Local governments can also tax and regulate. The estimated $1 billion in funds would be used for research and education on drug use, highway safety, and drug treatment.,_Marijuana_Legalization_(2016)

Four other states have already legalized marijuana for recreational use. It’s on the ballot in five states, including California this fall. About half including California have legalized medical marijuana. The arguments in favor are that its no more harmful than alcohol and jailing people who use and distribute it is a waste of scarce financial resources. The arguments against are that it may stunt the development of young brains and serves as a gateway to hard drug use.

Supporters include: Democratic Party, some in law enforcement, some unions, California Medical Association, and many civic organizations, Gary Johnson and Tom Campbell. Opponents include: Senator Dianne Feinstein, Republican Party, many in law enforcement, California Hospital Association  

Newspapers: Most endorse saying its well-crafted and about time.  Bakersfield Californian, Sacramento and Fresno Bee oppose saying “it’s too soon”.







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