I'm reminded this morning of a poster that resided on my bedroom wall sometime in the mid-1970s. My father had brought it back from a trip to London. Two police officers were violently arresting a young man dressed in the standard "punk" style of that era. Underneath the text read: "Whoever you voted for, the government got in." It was signed by an anarchist party whose name eludes me. Whoever (and in CA, whatever) you vote for tomorrow, governing through crime will continue.
There are several measures on the California ballot, however, that can in some degree begin to process of retracting public affirmation from the crime war, as well as gauging the underlying strength of its hold on the way people imagine themselves as citizens.
Proposition 5:NONVIOLENT DRUG OFFENSES. SENTENCING, PAROLE AND REHABILITATION. INITIATIVE STATUTE
If you produced one of those cool GPS social maps that geographers work in these days, that showed the geographic locations where California's 170,000 state prisoners lived before they went to prison, you would see that it is highly concentrated in several very precise neighborhood locations in the large cities (and in many small ones). If you then added data on the location of drug treatment placements (not to mention mental health treatment),you would see that these same neighborhoods that send people to prison, have comparatively few of these assets.
This initiative should pay for itself while possibly saving us billions in collateral court imposed mandates on prisons (see other postings on this blog) by breaking up this dynamic. By allowing drug addicted state prisoners to receive treatment in the community, proposition 5 would help stop the revolving door of parole in California through which thousands of non-violent offenders go back and forth to prison. Even the Governor has called this revolving door a problem.
Why isn't the Governor supporting this. Why is every living ex-governor opposing it. The long answer is in chapter 2 of Governing through Crime. Suffice it to say that being the chief champion of a public recast as crime victims, in their demands for vengeance and security has become the lifeblood of political executives. As prosecutors-in-chief, governors oppose anything that would reduce the punitive discretion of prosecutors.
PROPOSITION 6: POLICE AND LAW ENFORCEMENT FUNDING. CRIMINAL PENALTIES AND LAWS. INITIATIVE STATUTE
This is vintage governing through crime. It locks up money for law enforcement, demonizes youth crime and raises prison sentences. Its major proponent, George Runner, is a crime warrior legislator whose last major initiative success was the noxious and ludicrous (but successful) sex offender blockbuster called Jessica's Law. The major ideological function of this law is to further invest gang crime with political meaning. Its hard to have a war on crime unless crime looks and feels like a threatening army. The real value of gangs to politicians is that as a stereotype gang members fit the need for an enemy army. The reality is that most "gang crime" is simply youth conflict whose origins have little directly to do with gangs but for which gang signs are a convenient explanation.
PROPOSITION 9: CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM. VICTIMS'S RIGHTS. PAROLE. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT AND STATUTE
This measure would help constitutionalize the citizen as crime victim identity (subject of chapter 3 of Governing through Crime). The only good news here is that the very existence of this initiative may be evidence that the end is near for governing through crime. Efforts to constitutionalize usually mark awareness that the political vitality of a movement is slipping. Like its sister, Proposition 6, 9 would provide an opportunity for those who have benefited from the war on crime to lock in their gains. The single most atrocious feature of this initiative, is the senselessly cruel provision that would set rehearings in parole consideration for lifers in California prisons from its current 1 year, to a new presumption of 14 years. For many lifers in prison this is a death sentence and its adoption may well be followed by a wave of despair inside our prisons where lifers often play a key role in socializing younger inmates.
Both 6 and 9 are being supported financially by the Henry Nicholas, an internet millionaire whose sister was murdered by her boy friend 25 years ago, and who is now facing serious criminal charges involving fraud, sex, and drugs (read the story by Bethany Mclean in the November issue of Vanity Fair, Dr. Nicholas and Mr. Hyde)