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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sheriff Prieto Supports Proposition 6, Should You?

One of our Woodland blogging counterparts is the Woodland Journal, Dino and the Realist (and you think I use a pseudonym to blog under) do a very good job of following Woodland politics in addition to some Yolo County politics as well.

On Monday they had an interesting post where they show links to five different newspapers, each having the respective County Sheriff writing an editorial in support of Proposition 6. It turns out that each of these articles have a different byline but they are the exact same article.

Here is the link to our own Sheriff Ed Prieto's letter.

Sheriff Prieto writes:
"Whether California faces rosy or gloomy times, we must always make public safety the number one priority. If our streets, parks and schools aren't safe from gang violence and other crimes, then nothing else really matters."
He goes on to argue:
"Democratic members of the Budget Conference Committee have approved deep cuts to public safety programs including the Citizens Option for Public Safety, which provides for front-line law enforcement, and the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act while altogether eliminating several vital programs such as California's Methamphetamine Interdiction Program and the Small and Rural County Sheriffs Grant Program. Combined with a proposed corrections package that puts some offenders back out on the streets without supervision, these cuts will significantly exacerbate the ability of law enforcement to provide essential public safety services. These programs are critical in preventing our most at-risk youths from joining gangs, getting involved in drugs, and entering a lifetime of crime."
What else does this law do according to Sheriff Prieto:
"In addition to protecting important gang prevention and intervention funding, this initiative prohibits bail to illegal aliens who are charged with violent or gang crimes; it creates tougher punishment for gang crimes, drive-by shootings, methamphetamine distribution and victim intimidation; it helps victims who have been intimidated by gang criminals and it funds victim-witness protection programs in our communities."
Finally he gives you the link to a place where you can get more information: .

It all sounds good until you do a little more research on the act.

The sponsor of this bill is none other than Mike Reynolds. If his name sounds familiar, he was the author of the "Three Strikes" bill that is on the books, you know the one that has no exception if the perpetrator commits a third non-violent felony, which means people have been put into jail for a long time for fairly minor third crimes. So if you like "Three Strikes," then perhaps this is a good proposition to support. If you have concerns about it, then read on.

Some of the opposition to Proposition 6 includes the California Democratic Party, the California Professional Firefighters, the California Labor Federation, former Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks, the California Teachers Association, California National Organization for Women, the Los Angeles City Council, the League of Women Voters, California Church IMPACT and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

You might be asking why groups like teachers and women's groups are in opposition to a law enforcement bill. Not to mention labor groups.

There are two main reasons for this type of opposition.

First, opponents claim that it "divert(s) billions from California's schools, hospitals and childcare centers. By funding failed prison and policing policies, it would deepen the state's ongoing budget crisis."

It's a simple budget matter. If you have a finite pie of government spending and you give money to prisons and law enforcement, you have to take it from schools and health care.

Hence opponents cite this information:
"Half of Californians are in favor of cutting prison spending. only 3.6% of Californians are in favor of cutting health care funds and 5% in favor of cutting school funding. Proposition 6 will increase funding to prisons and cut funding to health care and schools."
From a budget standpoint it seems that this might not be a good time to cut money to health care and schools while funding more prisons.

Other arguments against this bill focus on the specifics of the bill and it seems to me that these specifics are probably subject to debate by reasonable people.

For instance, it forces youth convicted of any "gang-related" felony to be incarcerated as an adult rather than tried in juvenile court and housed in a youth prison.

It forces recipients of public housing subsidies to submit to annual criminal background checks--this has an obvious bent toward what is happening in Antioch. It would then make individuals with recent criminal convictions ineligible for subsidies. Worse yet it criminalizes people on the lower end of the socio-economic scale.

According to the website for opponents of Prop 6, it:
"Target(s) undocumented immigrants by denying bail to those charged with violent or gang-related crimes and requiring local sheriffs to inform Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the arrest and charges of people who are undocumented."
There are concerns that individuals who are listed in gang databases but who are actually affiliated with gangs could be falsely prosecuted under this provision. (Here's the source on that point).

For me, it seems like this imposes a lot of new rules on the criminal justice system that need to be clearly thought out in terms of their consequences. Voters will often vote for these measures because they want to be tough on crime. This one has a chance to fail because of the economic issues, but frankly some of the provisions could have startlingly unintended consequences.

It seems that the Sheriff's want the additional resources and I cannot blame them for that. But if it comes at the expense of beleaguered schools, it seems to me that we will just be feeding into the problem of law enforcement in the future by taking money from present education.

So for that reason alone, I am voting against it. And I am alarmed at a number of the provisions in the law. I am saddened to see the Sheriff supporting such a measure just to get additional funding.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting