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Last night’s elections should give us all cause for hope that the United States is moving into a post conservative era that will usher in a new wave of social policy. However, the defeat of California’s Proposition 5 should be a reminder of the challenges ahead in shaping a more humane and rational criminal justice system. Proposition 5 offered an opportunity to bypass the prison industrial complex interest groups who exert a stranglehold on reform legislation at the state capital. Unfortunately, the combination of bad financial times and a last minute infusion of $2 million in opposition funding from the California prison guards union, doomed the initiative

The defeat of Prop 5 is another reminder of the entrenched nature of California’s prison industrial complex and the power exerted by its special interest defenders. The following was taken from the prison guard’s website, following an event in which they assembled five former governors at a press conference to denounce Prop 5.

Five California governors came together Thursday in rare bipartisan opposition to a ballot initiative they fear would harm public safety by easing punishment for drug offenders.

Proposition 5 would divert tens of thousands of drug offenders annually from prisons or jails into treatment programs. It expands on a similar initiative approved by voters in 2000.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was joined by predecessors Gray Davis, Pete Wilson, Jerry Brown, and George Deukmejian at Thursday’s event at a Los Angeles County’s criminal courts building in downtown…

These governors were the recipients of millions in campaign contributions from the guards union over the past 25 years. Prop 5’s disappointing defeat should now become a rallying point for criminal justice reformers to regroup and craft a long term coherent and sustained strategy. The coalition and energy that came together to promote Prop 5 provides a solid foundation on which to build a more sustained and formidable effort than what previously existed.