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LOCAL VOICES: Prop 57 promotes rehab, reduces recidivism

If approved by voters on Nov. 8, Prop 57 provides a solution to overcrowded prisons, recidivism, and increased spending for incarceration  By MICHAEL ZUNIGA My heart was broken when my 10-year-old niece had to deal with her mother

If approved by voters on Nov. 8, Prop 57 provides a solution to overcrowded prisons, recidivism, and increased spending for incarceration

 By MICHAEL ZUNIGA

My heart was broken when my 10-year-old niece had to deal with her mother going to prison for 14 years for a non-violent drug-related conviction. She had been arrested and released numerous times from county jail without rehabilitation.

My niece will turn 19 on Nov. 6 and is waiting for the day she can hug and kiss her rehabilitated mother. This, unfortunately, is the reality for many families that have a family member that struggles with addiction. People are being incarcerated rather than receiving treatment for addiction.

The Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 reclassified drug users as criminals, instead of individuals needing treatment.  This led to tougher and longer mandatory sentences that have led to overcrowded prisons. In 2009, the Federal Bureau of investigation arrested approximately 1.6 million individuals for drug offenses.

Prop 57, the California Parole for Non-Violent Criminals and Juvenile Court Trial Requirements Initiative provides a solution to the overcrowding problem in the state prisons and the opportunity to reduce prison spending. The measure will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot. If approved, the measure will increase the opportunity for parole for felons convicted of non-violent crimes, and provide them opportunities to earn credits for good behavior. Additionally,  judges will determine whether to try certain juveniles as adults in court, not the prosecutors.

Opponents of the measure argue that neither Prop 57 nor the State of California defines which felonies are considered non-violent. According to California District Attorneys Association (CDAA), Prop 57 will release thousands of violent, dangerous, and career criminals early from prison. Criminals convicted of crimes such as rape by intoxication, rape of an unconscious person, human trafficking involving a sex act with minors, and drive-by shootings, are not listed among the 23 offenses as violent in Penal Code section 667.5(c) and therefore, appear to qualify as non-violent offenses that are eligible for early release under Prop 57.

Although opponents are correct that Prop 57 does not clearly define what a non-violent crime is, the measure does not state that any criminals will be released early. No one is automatically released from prison. In order to be granted parole, all current and future inmates must convince the Board of Parole Hearings (BPH)  they have been rehabilitated and no longer present a danger to society. The BPH is largely comprised of law enforcement officials that have the final say.

According to Gov. Jerry Brown, the state should stop spending money to house non-violent offenders that can be rehabilitated, and use the money on programs with high success rates of prevention.  Prop 57 places significant emphasis on rehab and education programs. Inmates would receive credit for participation and completion of such programs. Credit for participation would serve as an incentive and decrease recidivism.

Juvenile offenders will also be affected by Prop 57. Those age 14 and up cannot be tried as adults unless the juvenile court judge rules otherwise. Evidence has proven that minors remaining under juvenile court supervision are less likely to commit another crime.

It is important to vote “yes” on Prop 57. The measure will provide felons incentive for good behavior and participation in rehab and education programs, which ultimately will reduce recidivism, producing rehabilitated individuals capable of making positive contributions to the community.

Miguel Zuniga is a first-year graduate student pursuing an MSW degree at the University of Southern California Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

 

Compton Herald is a digital news publication providing clear, fair and current news, information and commentary about Compton, the Los Angeles metropolitan area, Los Angeles County, California, and the world.

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