Story By: Bay City News Service
A letter, sponsored by several of the largest crime victims’ organizations in California, was sent to mayors of the state’s 13 largest cities Thursday, urging them to oppose Proposition 20 — a statewide initiative that they believe will increase incarceration rates and costs, while cutting investments in services necessary to help survivors.
The letter coincided with a press conference held Thursday morning, where crime victims and different district attorneys from across the state shared why they were opposing Proposition 20.
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, who was part of the press conference, said this proposition would “turn back the clock 20-30 years ago.”
“We had prisons that were bursting at the seams, unconstitutionally overcrowded that we had to send our prisoners to different states. We had 14 new prisons built over a period of time but one public university. We had high crime rates,” Rosen said. “Do we want to turn back the clock or do we want to move forward as we have been over the last few years in this state?”
The proposition, which will be on the November ballot this year, would amend several sentencing charges to be more punitive. If passed, theft and fraud crimes, like firearm theft, vehicle theft and unlawful use of a credit card would be chargeable as misdemeanors or felonies, rather than just misdemeanors.
It would also change 51 crimes and sentence enhancements as violent, which would exclude those individuals from the parole review program in which felons convicted of nonviolent crimes, as defined by the law, could be released for parole.
“Accountability is a key piece of justice, but it is not the only piece. You cannot double down on punishment at the expense of getting results,” Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton said. “By increasing the number of offenses eligible for parole by over 100 percent, the only thing prop 20 guarantees is that a person who’s locked up for those offenses will have no incentive to participate in the rehabilitation program. That means far more people will exit our prisons without receiving the rehabilitation services that research shows recidivism.”
The press conference also hosted individuals who were victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse who shared that while jail time for their abuser was a relief, it was not the main component for the healing of their trauma.
Sephora Acheson, the executive director of Ruby’s Place — the first domestic abuse shelter in the United States, shared her experience as a survivor of sexual assault as a child.
“It provided temporary sense of safety when the person that caused me harm was in jail, but it didn’t change their behavior. Where the healing really came for me…is from the services like counseling, shelter and case management as well as the rehabilitation services of those who caused harm,” Acheson said. “It is incredibly disheartening that survivor voices are being exploited to say yes on Prop. 20. That is not the consensus that we hear from folks that we serve as well as myself, personally.”
One in five people who survived a crime in the last 10 years received the help needed to recover from their trauma, according to a 2020 Alliance for Safety and Justice study.
Opponents of Proposition 20 fear that with the passing of this legislation coupled with budget cuts related to COVID-19, resources available for victims would see significant cuts.
William Lansdowne, a retired San Diego and San Jose police chief, said this bill would “decimate some of those programs.”
“They are going to put officers back in patrol and going to cut the family justice centers and the homeless outreach centers because they are expensive,” Lansdowne said. “We need to be able to keep that money.”
The bill would increase state and local correctional costs for more than tens of millions of dollars annually. It would also increase costs for state and local courts for over a million dollars annually.
Former San Francisco District Attorney and candidate for Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon said in order to understand who benefits from the proposition, it is important to follow the money.
“The largest amount of money is coming from law enforcement associations and prison guards. Organizations that have benefited for the last several decades by the infusion of taxpayers money into those organizations,” Gascon said.
The top three donors who contributed to Protecting California Cooper Ballot Measure Committee, a PAC that supports Prop 20, were the California Correctional Peace Officers Association Truth in American Government Fund, the Association For Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs PIC and the Los Angeles Police Protective League Issues PAC. Each of those organizations donated $2 million, according to public campaign finance documents.
“We build more prisons than universities. We have increased the size of police agencies and without necessarily seeing any return on the investment,” Gascon said. “In fact… we are now experiencing some of the lowest crime levels… and that has not been because of more incarceration.”
The state has fewer incarcerated people now, than in any point in California history, but the bill would result in as many as 10,000 more people imprisoned every year in state jails and prisons, according to a 2020 study by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.
The letter was signed by Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, California’s largest network of survivors of crime. The California Partnership to End Domestic Violence and Ruby’s Place — which provide shelter and other crises services to survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse have also signed on.
It has been sent to the mayors of Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Fresno, Sacramento, Long Beach, Oakland, Bakersfield, Anaheim, Riverside, Santa Ana and Stockton.
So far, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf have responded by saying they oppose Proposition 20.