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This blog concludes a nine-part CA policy series of blogs focused on California’s special interest groups and their impact on criminal justice policy. You can find the full series on CJCJ’s California Criminal Justice Interest Group Watch.

The series aimed to answer the question: when it comes to promoting criminal justice policy in California, what works and why?

I conducted my exploration of this issue through three channels: 

~ Examining various marketing strategies deployed by interest groups to promote or defeat California Propositions. 

~ Reviewing the historic legislative activity of various criminal justice interest groups to determine their agenda and the impact that has on the policies they promote. 

~ Exploring the role of lobbying firms representing special interest groups and the influence they can wield through building a coalition of clientele. 

Generally, criminal justice special interest groups in California are coalitions of historically tough-on-crime proponents. These include law enforcement, correctional officers, bail agents, victims’ rights advocates, and prosecutors. These groups have built strong associations and unions based on a common interest in a law enforcement model of criminal justice. This model emphasizes incarceration, increased policing, harsher sentences and increased criminalization of a broad range of behaviors. 

Certain lobbying firms have developed an extensive clientele with similar tough-on-crime agendas and vigorously advocate on their behalf in Sacramento and in the media. Strategic multi-media marketing campaigns that exploit celebrity and political connections, corporate financial backing, and well developed tough-on-crime rhetoric make these lobbying firms successful at influencing criminal justice legislation. For decades these stakeholders in California have pursued a tough-on-crime agenda resulting in severe prison overcrowding, lack of rehabilitative and reentry programs, and a 75% recidivism rate. Many of the recent policy reform efforts in California were born out of necessity: a federal court order and a devastating fiscal crisis. 

A wealth of independent research has demonstrated that a deinstitutionalized, rehabilitative model of criminal justice is more successful at reducing crime rates and increasing public safety. This approach is now widely recognized as best practice in the field. While some interest groups have begun to support the pursuit of best practices in California, the majority have not. The connection between special interest groups and California’s current criminal justice system must be exposed if California’s legislature and residents are to pursue best criminal justice practices in the future. 

Look out for more blogs on this issue in the coming weeks!