Fiscal Disaster in California
The mandatory sentencing craze that has swept the country over the last 30 years did little to cut back the drug trade, but it drove up the prison population and pushed corrections costs to ruinous levels. The process was especially destructive in California, where a federal court has placed the prison system’s dangerously decrepit medical services under a receiver who wants the state to cough up $8 billion to bring that system up to constitutional standards.
The last thing California residents need at this point are new policies that land even more people behind bars and drive up prison spending further. But November’s ballot in California, the birthplace of irresponsible government by referendum, includes two costly initiatives that would do just that.
California voters need to reject Propositions 6 and 9.
Proposition 6, which is misleadingly titled the Safe Neighborhoods Act, recreates the failed criminal justice policies of the past. According to an analysis by the state attorney general, this proposal would make about 30 changes in criminal laws and would create entirely new crimes, some with the potential to produce additional life sentences.
It would expand the conditions under which juveniles could be tried as adults, flying in the face of federally backed studies that show that making it easier to try juveniles as adults causes more crime, not less.
It would cost Californians nearly a billion dollars, for starters, in spending on law enforcement, and prosecution — money that would be diverted from, among other things, health, education, parks and environmental protection. Over the years, Proposition 6 would drive the state deeper into the hole by requiring automatic funding increases keyed to inflation.
Proposition 9 is in some ways even more extreme. It would amend the constitution to give victims an outsize influence in criminal cases turning dispassionate justice into family vengeance.
It also would worsen prison overcrowding by restricting early-release programs, and it would undermine law and order behind bars by eliminating incentives for good behavior. According to a state analysis, this measure could potentially cost states and localities hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
Californians have harmed themselves before by adopting costly programs that drain state coffers while providing for no new funding. To do so again at this perilous point would be fiscal suicide.