Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger used his annual state of the state address to call for a constitutional amendment to guarantee that at least 10 percent of the state's general fund revenues go for higher education, while prison expenditures are limited to 7 percent. [read his press release]. The Governor stated that expenditures had traditionally been 10 percent for higher education and 3 percent for corrections (actually it was nearly 20 percent when I was a student here). Noting that this year corrections received more money than higher education, the Governor is calling for an amendment that will fix the ratio beginning in 2014.
The proposal is bold and deserves support (although adding yet more layers to our Rube Goldberg state constitution is a problem in its own right). Unfortunately, the Governor seems to envision that this will be achieved by reducing spending on prisoners, not by reducing prisoners. His proposal would also allow the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to contract out to private suppliers for prisons and prison services.
In another important development related to criminal justice, a panel of the 9th circuit held Washington state's automatic felon disenfranchisement law violates the Voting Rights Act (Section 2) because the criminal justice system in the state is "infected with bias" that cannot be explained on race neutral grounds. [read the opinion here]. In perhaps the biggest surprise, the court's ruling applies to felons still in prison (the state had already revised the law to lead to presumptive restoration of rights to those finishing their sentences). I will leave it to others who know the VRA jurisprudence to comment on the panel's reasoning. The most exciting aspect from my perspective is that the court cited empirical work by criminologists Robert Crutchfield and Katherine Beckett for its conclusion that Washington's criminal justice system was racially biased. Crutchfield's report was apparently based on analysis of arrest and sentencing data (Blacks are 4 times more likely to be arrested for a violent crime, but 9 times more likely to go to prison). Beckett's research showed that drug arrests focus on crack, outdoor dealing, and downtown drug use, all factors that lead to a disproportionate impact on minorities. Whatever happens to the VRA aspects of this case, it is hard to believe that this data will not be used to challenge other aspects of Washington's criminal justice system.
[cross posted at prawfsblawg]