Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Stop Them Before they Legislate Again: California's Lock-em-Up Couple Goes Back to the Ballot

As California prisons continue into a second year of state of emergency with nearly twice as many prisoners as spaces (even with the most optimistic design specs) and a chronic medical care collapse which causes at least one unnecessary death a week, some California law makers are busy at work making sure even more Californian's go to prison for longer.

According to the reporting of Patrick McGreevey in the LA Times, the husband and wife legislative team of Geoorge and Sharon Runner, who brought us the panoply of expensive and draconian sex offender policies called Jessica's Law has now teemed up with the father of the Three Strikes law to bring yet another crack down initiative to the ballot.

The new initiative, dubbed "The Safe Neighborhoods Act: Protect Crime Victims, Stop Gangs and Thugs" would target gang members and do more to lash California's budget to spending on crime. It has also been endorsed by LA County Sheriff Lee Baca and other law enforcement leaders. Some of the provisions include:

* Creating a nine-member Early Intervention and Rehabilitation Commission to evaluate and make recommendations on existing and future gang-reduction programs.

* Increasing by 10 years the sentence given convicted felons caught with guns.

* Requiring that convicted gang offenders register with local law enforcement each year for five years after conviction or their release from custody.

* Allowing admission of sworn statements by gang crime witnesses who have died or who are unavailable to testify at the time of prosecution because of intimidation.

* Increasing penalties for individuals who provide contraband to gang members in prison.

* Authorizing the seizure of cars in which a gun is found that was used during the commission of a crime by the registered owner.

* Prohibiting bail for illegal immigrants charged with violent gang crimes.

Gangs are the preferred target for crime warriors because they provide a fits all explanation for urban violence and offer abundant racial stereotypes around which to hang satisfying terms like "thugs." Law enforcement loves gangs because it gives them something that looks like an army to have their crime war against. Legislators like the Runners love them, because they provide the perfect enemy to focus a distracted public on.

The only problem is that prison itself is the biggest gang producing institution in the state of California and this law will only guarantee more people get sent to prison, more often, and for longer. In the meantime, the intensely local relations and problems that lead to most youth violence will continue to go unaddressed while the Runners and their fellow crime entrepreneurs campaign on.

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