California voters expressed a clear appetite for criminal justice reform, supporting ambitious changes after a summer of mass protests prompted a painful reckoning around racial injustice and the role of policing, reports the Los Angeles Times. On statewide ballot measures and in key local races, voters backed progressive candidates and policies that promised to hold police more accountable and shift taxpayer funding from law enforcement toward social services. In some cases, voters enacted policies that never gained traction or fell short of passage during legislative sessions in Sacramento. California has been a leader on easing tough-on-crime tactics of an earlier era. Tuesday’s results opens a new front for more aggressive reforms, such as calls to reduce funding to law enforcement agencies.
Well-funded police unions that stalled statewide police reform legislation were less effective convincing voters the move would endanger public safety. The changes come in a year in which crime is rising significantly in some cities. In Los Angeles County, a longtime trendsetter on criminal justice, voters ousted District Attorney Jackie Lacey, who was accused of being too lenient on cops and too cozy with police unions, and passed a measure mandating spending on jail diversion programs, mental health and housing. At the state level, voters restored the right to vote to parolees, and rejected a measure that would have increased penalties for petty offenses. Black Lives Matter rallied in celebration of Lacey’s apparent loss on Wednesday, and suggested a George Gascón victory could reshape the way prosecutions are handled in an office that files 100,000 criminal cases each year. A Gascón victory would be the biggest win yet in a nationwide push to elect more progressive prosecutors.