A well-loved columnist has taken to the airwaves again, to shoot down Bernie Sanders’ promise to end the disproportionate incarceration of minorities by the end of his first term.
Is ending mass-incarceration too lofty a goal? Is it impossible? Only if we bow our heads down and concede power to the prison-industrial system, but not if the people demand its abolition by voting for local, state, and federal candidates who pledge to see such legislation through. Not if voters keep constant pressure on the establishment to empty this nation’s jails. Not if movements for civil rights apply pressure by both keeping the public conversation going and take the next step by getting involved at every level of government. Not if voters in those states that have ballot initiatives make the great effort to introduce legislation, as was done with California’s Prop 47. Not if the nation’s newspapers keep up the pressure by informing readers on lack of progress, as the Los Angeles Times has done in its editorial, California’s prison spending is out of whack, in an effort to call attention to inaction on the part of a Governor who is reputed to favor the prison-industrial system.
“Where is the de-incarceration dividend? With crime up, Californians have a right to ask why the savings from prison realignment haven’t materialized and why an expected $100 million to $200 million in Proposition 47 savings has been budgeted by Gov. Jerry Brown at less than $30 million.
After all, the state’s prison population has plunged, first from realignment — the 2011 shift in responsibility for many felons from the state to counties — then from inmate releases to meet court-imposed prison population caps and deadlines, and then from Proposition 47, the 2014 ballot measure to reduce drug possession and some other felonies to misdemeanors and therefore reduce the need for prison and jail space. State prisons house about 30,000 fewer people than they did just four years ago.
In the last four years, per capita prison costs have jumped from $49,000 to $64,000 annually. How can that be?”
Source: Los Angeles Times, January 14, 2016
California Proposition 47
The ballot measure, which was approved by California voters in November 2014, called for the following measures:
Classifies “non-serious, nonviolent crimes” as misdemeanors instead of felonies unless the defendant has prior convictions for murder, rape, certain sex offenses or certain gun crimes.
Permits re-sentencing for those currently serving a prison sentence for any of the offenses that the initiative reduces to misdemeanors. About 10,000 inmates will be eligible for resentencing, according to Lenore Anderson of Californians for Safety and Justice.
Requires a “thorough review” of criminal history and risk assessment of any individuals before re-sentencing to ensure that they do not pose a risk to the public.
Creates a Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund. The fund will receive appropriations based on savings accrued by the state during the fiscal year, as compared to the previous fiscal year, due to the initiative’s implementation. Estimates range from $150 million to $250 million per year.
Distributes funds from the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund as follows: 25 percent to the Department of Education, 10 percent to the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board and 65 percent to the Board of State and Community Correction.
Even in California, in which there is a process in place whereby voters can compel the state to take specific actions by direct vote, getting a governor to honor the will of the people is not always immediate or possible due to a variety of reasons. Predicating the success of any president is voter engagement to such a degree that at least one house of Congress will be taken back by the Democratic party. Ending incarceration as we know it requires having a president who will approach the problem from multiple angles and is willing to make full use the power of the executive, the Department of Justice and other means to move states to honor their obligations, by whatever means available, including lawsuits, withholding of funding when possible, anything else smart Constitutional lawyers come up with, and everything that facilitates giving the people their voice back. No option should be overlooked. A new president should be pushed to employ any and all creative ways of compelling states that do not have an option such as a ballot measure.
In what has been billed as the most comprehensive proposal yet, Bernie Sanders published his Plan For Racial Justice last summer, in which remedies for Mass-incarceration are clearly spelled out.
It takes a whole nation to bring change about, and it takes that nation’s focus to effect it. It takes the dogged determination of a leader to keep voters involved and see the process through. It takes courageous leadership, when faced with obstruction and nullification, to find creative ways to bring about change. Some of those creative ways will no doubt include the signing of executive orders and pardoning as many as a president can. That is a privilege of the presidency that is available. President Obama, in his last State of The Union address challenged voters and civil rights organizations to do their part.
“America has been through big changes before — wars and depression, the influx of new immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, movements to expand civil rights.
Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future, who claimed we could slam the brakes on change, who promised to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control. And each time, we overcame those fears.We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the dogmas of the quiet past. Instead we thought anew and acted anew.”
Barack Obama, SOTU 2016
What Sanders proposes and promises is the implementation of Barack Obama’s challenge to the nation and directly in line with President Obama’s vision. These are not over-promises. These are not pipe dreams. This is acting on the very things Black Lives Matter, the ACLU, NAACP and many other civil rights group have long been demanding.
What one columnist calls impossible and an “over-promise” is part and parcel of what Sanders has been calling a political revolution and what Black Lives Matter has been demanding to change. Change means we all get involved to get the things we need accomplished. Where would we be today, were it not for the idealism and activism of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, James Baldwin, and all the other civil rights giants who graced our nation? Where would we be, as a human race, were it not for the will to dream and thrive?
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