Recently received an e-mail from my friend (and former Hesitating conspirator) Pete regarding a couple ballot measures up for consideration this November. It’s an issue that’s close to his heart as his interest in the justice system and incarceration provided the basis for his college degree as well as his excellent website Prison Photography.

Friends.

With this email I sadly admit that I have nothing better to do on a Friday night than read the editorial of the New York Times and worry about the state I used to call home. But I think it is worth it.

I just read this and I think you should too.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/10/opinion/10fri2.html?_r=1&ref=opinion&oref=slogin

As, I can’t effect the outcome of California props 6 & 9 from Seattle, please read the article (it’s short) stick the issues at the front of your head for a brief period and give some thought as to whether you want more prisons and more punitive criminal justice systems in the finest state in the union. Basically, do you want to put California deeper in the hole for false promises of safety and an absent budget for the future education of your kids (if and when you choose to pop them out, and if there is a public school system left).

Thanks.

Pete

PS. California currently spends $10 billion/year on its prisons.

http://www.realcostofprisons.org/blog/

With the charged Presidential election monopolizing the media for the past several months it’s always important to remember that there are pressing issues at hand, ones which might have a more direct impact on your life than who sits in the Oval Office on any given day. After a quick peek through my Official Voter Information Guide I would have to concur with Pete that both Proposition 6 and 9 are ill-advised and subject to passion over logic.


Photo by Darcy Padilla

Proposition 6 is less flagrant in its attempts to manipulate the voters’ emotions, although the pet name proponents have given it, The Safe Neighborhoods Act, is a pretty clear indication you should be wary. The statute is spit into two aspects, one which addresses additional funding to all levels of enforcement, prosecution and incarceration. Almost one billion dollars per year, to be exact, with a caveat indicating that funding requirements for particular departments is subject to increase over time. The second aspect of the statute would make thirty revisions to California criminal law.

On the funding front there seems to be no concept that prisons are over-crowded and understaffed because of previous state initiatives and the continued reliance on prosecution over intervention or determent. All of this billion dollar package goes to one side of the law and is earmarked for reacting to crime, or what is defined as such. While I believe that prison over-crowding is an important issue which requires addressing I don’t think that the answer lies in throwing money into the wind and hoping it plugs the holes.

My daydreams might seem a little strange to you. I envision a system of work-camps spread throughout California. Low-level offenders (obviously non-violent) would be syphoned away from the concrete and steel onto various prison farms. They would become, possibly for the first time, acquainted with the world of plants, dirt, sky. They would be required to till the soil, sow the seed, reap the harvest and above all else participate in a cycle of life greater than their own. The crops (organic, obviously) would be distributed throughout state agencies providing food for the convicts, prisons, schools and state hospitals. Imagine school-children eating something that hadn’t be processed and purchased from a profit-driven third party with no regard for the kids’ health or well-being. At night the inmates of my farms would take various classes both academic and trade-oriented. They could see therapists, take workshops or paint the distant mountains in watercolor. Whatever they need to show them something outside of the life they’ve known. They would have free range of the property in question, requiring a couple fences and a small staff of guards. Where are they going to run to?

Oh, excuse me.

The more obviously disturbing portion of Proposition 6 is the rewriting of criminal law. Most of the measures increase mandatory sentences for, and place further probationary restrictions on, gang members. Gangs are scare tactic number one. The second scare tactic is everyone’s favorite scourge, the child-molesters. Released pedophiles would be required to wear GPS devices for the rest of their lives, but it’s unclear which department of justice foots the bill. Certainly not the department of mental health which doesn’t oversee sex-offenders, although I think they are the most appropriate state agency for the job. There are a couple curious provisions highlighted regarding these thirty revisions including two relating to meth (they wanna up it to cocaine level felonies) and one which increases the penalty for stealing a car by a year if the thief intended on selling said vehicle. What? Again these measures all address the punitive side of the law and we have a legacy of failure insisting that this is a loser’s game.

Photo by Trent Nelson

Photo by Trent Nelson

Proposition 9 is an even more blatant perversion of America’s concept of justice. Entitled “Criminal Justice System. Victim’s Rights. Parole.”, this initiative attempts to alter the state constitution to increase the amount of restitution a convicted felon would be forced to pay, decrease the frequency of parole hearings while dropping the limit of victim’s family members who are eligible to testify during said hearings, and expand the rights of victims and their families during legal proceedings and parole hearings. Notification of parole and other court proceedings seems to factor largely in this amendment, although notification does exist. The proponents of the initiative obviously don’t like the amount of bureaucracy involved in receiving word that someone’s up for parole or release and while I’m sure their complaint is valid adding a constitutional amendment hardly seems the way to decrease the barriers to communication. The expanded rights being given consideration do have some merit such as the return of personal property which is no longer needed for prosecution and the consideration of the victim’s safety during bail hearings but vague rambling about “safe schools” as well as the money cloud what might be worthwhile. The attempts to prevent early release by parole boards seems retributive and while no one’s going to say that victims of crime don’t have the right to be pissed off or scared this massive band-aid over sutures appears more cosmetic than life-saving.

I’m not eager to support many ballot measures which examine crime as something to be dealt with solely by lock and key. While I hate to bring money into it there is a finite amount of resources which can be afforded to any program or system dealing with crime and all we’ve managed to do by blindly supporting the law and justice side of the equation is expand a prison population which expands the amount of people who will one day be sent back out into a society unwilling to show understanding or compassion, with little ability to integrate successfully. Props 6 & 9 are pretty easy to shoot down, and there are several ballot initiatives which hardly bear mention. Take, for instance, Proposition 4, “Waiting Period and Parental Notification Before Termination of Minor’s Pregnancy”. My introduction to this ballot measure, yet another attempt to amend the state constitution, was delivered most eloquently by my friend Evan who is sadly under-represented in the annals of the internet:

These guidos want to get all the young girls preggers

Hello everybody.

Among the many other nefarious political plots being hatched this November, there’s gonna be a threepeat of the odious parental notification initiative that failed in 2005 and 2006. It’s Proposition 4 (it’ll be on the second ballot card you get, SF voters), and it would require California doctors to notify the parents of any unemancipated girl under 18 prior to performing an abortion, and then wait 48 hours while her asshole parents kidnap her and lock her in a cabin for the next nine months until a bouncing unwanted bundle comes into this world.

Anyway, I’m writing this because I just found out one of the main backers of this garbage is Don Sebastiani & Sons (look at these fucking mooks) the makers of Smoking Loon and other wines I think most everyone here has bought at some point. Here’s the line-up. I don’t like the idea of buying a bargain red headache that then ends up funding these repetitive attacks on abortion rights. California voters have said no to this same exact thing twice in the last three years. It’s polling much stronger now, and it might win (Central California Palin voters, anyone?). Not funding these right-wing magnates won’t get this off the ballot, but it’s still good to know the enemy.

Hate and bigotry prevail and Proposition 8 is this year’s most revolting result. Knowledge of this particular vendetta interrupted my dinner one evening:

The photograph of a prisoner’s hands is by Darcy Padilla from her series Navajo Jails.

The photograph of a parole hearing is by Trent Nelson, photographer for the Salt Lake City Tribune.

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