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Election Day has arrived and California has 3 ballot initiatives that directly impact our state criminal justice system. 

Prop 34: Support

California voters reinstated the death penalty in 1978, following the 1972 Supreme Court decision in Furman v. Georgia, which ruled the practice cruel and unusual. Since 1978, the state has sentenced roughly 900 persons with a death sentence, but only 13 were subsequently executed. The state presently has a death row population of 724.

The death penalty comes with an exorbitant fiscal cost that can no longer be justified given the ballooning budget deficits facing states across the country. The Death Penalty Information Center estimates the total cost to the state at approximately $4 billion since 1978. CJCJ’s publication, A Taxpayers Guide to the Death Penalty,” provides an in-depth analysis of the costs associated with this practice in the context of California’s court system. 

Proposition 34, the Savings, Accountability, and Full Enforcement for California Act (SAFE) would repeal the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. It would also retroactively apply to individuals previously sentenced to death. Plus, the act would provide new limited state funding for local enforcement groups. Finally, the Legislative Analyst estimates initial annual state and county savings of $100 million, eventually increasing to $130 million. 

Prop 35: Oppose

Human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children are very serious issues, which deserve not only public concern, but also effective and thoughtful political action. The matter is even more pressing, considering that California is a central location for this illegal practice. 

Proposition 35, the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act (CASE), increases sentencing penalties for human trafficking, while also growing registration requirements for sex offenders. Despite the well-meaning intentions of the initiative, CJCJ opposes the proposal because it is an inappropriate and inadequate mechanism for addressing this issue. 

There are reasonable concerns that Proposition 35 is unenforceable, with little substantive funding for victims. Moreover, the complexities and long-term social needs of this area of organized crime and criminal justice policy cannot simply be addressed through an ad hoc and inflexible initiative process. 

Prop 36: Support

Legislators and voters passed California’s Three Strikes And You’re Out” in 1994 as a sentencing enhancement to manage aggressive repeat offenders. The policy mandated a sentence of 25-years-to-life for persons convicted of any felony following two earlier convictions for serious or violent crimes. The hope was that such aggressive sentencing would deter future violent crime by removing the worst repeat offenders from the streets. 

However, this law has proven overbroad and ineffective at achieving public safety goals despite the increasing cost of long-term incarceration. A 2005 report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office found that 56% of strikers” are prosecuted for non-serious, non-violent offenses and CJCJ data-driven analyses conclude the law has had no demonstrable effect on violent crime levels or trends.” 

Proposition 36, The Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012 seeks to amend the 1994 policy by requiring the third offense to be serious or violent felony. Moreover, the policy would allow non-violent, non-serious inmates, who are serving life sentences, to petition for re-sentencing. The Legislative Analyst estimates the policy will net state savings of $70 million annually, with the potential for $90 million savings in the future. 

All three of the above propositions have significant and long-term impacts on the future of California. CJCJ encourages California voters to consider how each of these propositions affects the efficiency and effectiveness of the state’s criminal justice system. 

~ Brian Goldstein 

CJCJ Communications and Policy