Will COVID-19, Floyd Death Defeat CA Anticrime Plan?

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California law enforcement backers had seen November as a chance to reimpose strict criminal justice requirements via a ballot initiative after years of rollbacks in the state’s notoriously tough laws. Supporters of stiffer penalties believed the electorate would be receptive after a rise in property crimes and shoplifting, Politico reports. Then COVID-19 drew attention to inmates packed into jails and prisons who are disproportionately minorities, and the police killing of George Floyd launched protests. Backers of the ballot initiative must contend with rising distrust among a growing number of Californians. They are continuing to seek passage of stricter laws while re-shaping their message. “Obviously the public’s given a lot of thought in the last two to three months on issues as it relates to race and police power,” said Jeff Flint, a spokesperson for the measure, Proposition 20. He says the measure embodies “relatively simple reforms and things we believe the public largely support.”

Opponents warn the initiative would perpetuate “unjust policies that disproportionately harm poor people and people of color.” In the 1990s, California’s three strikes law helped inflate prison populations to the point that the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 ordered a reduction in the prisoner total. In recent years California voters have approved initiatives to reduce drug and theft sentences and to make it easier for lower-level offenders to win early release from prison. In November, they will have chances to pare back elements of those initiatives, as well as decide whether to outlaw cash bail. Former Gov. Jerry Brown will work to defeat Proposition 20, which he called a “very cynical” plan that would deprive inmates of incentives for rehabilitation. Brown said proponents are miscalculating by embracing a “lock-em-up mentality that’s totally against the current move of being sensitive to low-income people and people of color.”

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