Connecting Justice Reform Demands with State Ballot Measures

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

How might proposed justice and police reforms work with changes voters can make on sentencing, parole and cash bail measures on the November ballot? And will voters perceive any connections? 

Californians who have witnessed months of social agitation for justice and police reform, including calls to defund the police, are being asked to make critical policy decisions when it comes to redoing criminal sentencing rules and keeping or rejecting cash bail with Propositions 20 and 25. 

The issues of police reforms and social justice challenge traditional notions of law and the legal system. 

Efforts to reduce the number of prisoners that led voters in recent elections to reclassifying certain criminal offenses and alter sentencing and ease parole requirements are being challenged in November with Proposition 20, a measure supported heavily by law enforcement. 

Proposition 20 would restrict parole for certain offenses currently considered non-violent and convert some crimes currently labeled misdemeanors into felonies, which could result in more jail time. 

A major argument that law enforcement officials make to overturn the votes of just a few years ago is that many of those committing crimes and are arrested quickly are released and soon are repeating their nefarious activities. Prop 20 is also about re-classifying certain crimes such as the brutality related to sex trafficking as violent crimes. However, the focus here is about the complaints from law enforcement about consequences from Propositions 47 and 57, which amount to arresting burglars and break-in specialists, just to see them quickly resume their activities. Police officials argue the process is frustrating and does not serve justice. 

Yet, justice advocates want even less police activity and fewer dollars spent on policing. If Proposition 20 is defeated, the situation police already decry would get worse if police resources are reduced. A number of communities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, have already voted to cut police budgets. 

You’ll find similar arguments attached to the battle over whether to keep the money bail system in place. In describing California’s “experiment” with no cash bail during the pandemic, supporters of the cash bail  system (who seek a “no” vote on the Proposition 25 referendum to kill the legislatively enacted change of eliminating the bail system) speak of defendants arrested and released back in the streets committing new crimes within hours of their release. 

Such instances, which has been affirmed in New York which is also dealing with no cash bail, would add additional strain on a police department with reduced funding. 

Of course, there are other arguments for and against the two ballot measures which you can find in the state voter guide.  But the question remains: Do voters consider the interplay of the ballot measures and the propositions’ consequences when listening and seeing rallies and proposals directed at justice matters? 

There can clearly be middle ground to achieve necessary policing reforms without jeopardizing the safety of citizens. But, ballot measures, as we know, don’t offer  negotiated compromises.

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