Progressive Prison Reform in California: Crime Pays

A few days ago, I received a text message from “Stacey,” of the Real Justice PAC, notifying me of San Diego County’s upcoming June 5 elections. We “will have a chance to replace our Republican District attorney with a progressive Democrat,” she informed me.

Naturally, I wanted to learn more about the latest progressive crusade.

Real Justice claims to be an outgrowth of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. The group’s objective is to elect prosecutors who will “fight for social justice.” To this end, “big organizing” is required to mobilize “massive audiences” for a “big agenda.” Using the power of “social media, digital tools and the voices of a new generation of leaders like Shaun King who are organizing massive audiences to take action locally and nationally through rapid response campaigns.” The last thing anyone wants is a call from Shaun King’s people. That’s the guy with a conspicuous lack of melanin who co-founded Black Lives Matter.

All this talk of a “systematic, mass participation approach” and the aggressive unsolicited phone calls and text messages reminded me of another organization—the Association of Community Organizations for Reform (ACORN).

ACORN’s mass participation program for electing social justice-minded bureaucrats entailed “enlisting millions of new and politicized voters.” ACORN called for mass democracy to “create an electoral environment hospitable to fundamental change in American society,” which required an “enlarged and politicized electorate” to “sustain and encourage the movements in American society that are already working for the rights of women and minorities.” And don’t forget “protection of the social programs, and . . . transformation of foreign policy.”

ACORN, if you don’t recall, became notorious in California for its aggressive tactics. Several of its organizers were convicted, Matthew Vadum reports, of facilitating “fraudulent voting, identify fraud, perjury, voter registration fraud, forgery, and other crimes related to the electoral process” That’s not to say Real Justice has committed any such crimes, but the PAC appears to be at least of the same genus as ACORN.

What Progressive Policy Gets You

So, how did Stacey get my phone number? “Good question—we got your contact info from the voter file, which is the publicly available database of registered voters that campaigns use for outreach.” Democrat Geneviéve Jones-Wright, writes Stacey, is running for district attorney to “take on mass incarceration, hold police accountable + end the county’s backlog of untested rape kits. Does that sound like a candidate you would support?”

No. Here’s why.

Progressives have a knack for identifying and exploiting authentic issues, for which they invariably offer anodyne-sounding state-administered meliorism. But what has progressive criminal justice reform wrought for California so far? In 2017, “misgendering” someone became punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and a year in prison, while knowingly transmitting HIV was downgraded to a misdemeanor, punishable with no more than 90 days in jail. Meanwhile, violent crime is creeping upward across the Golden State, though we’re assured that it could be a lot worse.

In February, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Allen Sumner declared that the state must consider “earlier parole for potentially thousands of sex offenders, maybe even those convicted of pimping children.” But Sumner took it a step further. According to the Los Angeles Times, the judge also said “those who already served their time for a sex crime, even a violent one, and now are imprisoned for a different crime should be eligible for early release.” Sumner’s proposed pedopocalypse is in keeping with the progressive tradition of releasing dangerous criminals into society—a tradition that Californians have paid for in blood.

Michael Mejia is a known gang member with tattoos covering his face and a record that runs a mile long. In 2010, he was convicted of robbery, for which he was sentenced to four years in state prison. Then in 2014, Mejia was convicted of grand theft auto, for which he received two years.

After spending 2016 in and out of jail, Mejia was arrested again in January 2017 for violating his parole, for which he was sentenced to 40 days in jail, but only stayed for 10. This is called “flash incarceration,” which is exactly what it sounds like—a slap on the wrist.

Just 10 days after Mejia was set loose, again, he murdered his cousin, Roy Torres, in East Los Angeles and stole a car. According to police, Mejia crashed into two cars in Whittier after fleeing the scene. Two officers responded to the collision and during a pat-down, Mejia pulled a gun from his waistband and murdered Officer Keith Boyer, while wounding his partner, Officer Patrick Hazell.

“We need to wake up. Enough is enough. You’re passing these propositions, you’re creating these laws that are raising crimes. It’s not good for our communities and it’s not good for our officers,” said Whittier Police Chief John Piper. “We need to pull our head out of the sand and realize what we are doing to our community and to our officers.”

Crime Pays Again

Piper was referring to Proposition 47, a California law that mandates the early release of prisoners, even those sentenced for violent crimes. “Now, you can get away with it because of Proposition 47,” says Semisi Sina, a 30-year-old criminal near the top of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department’s list of repeat offenders.

“Proposition 47, it’s cool,” Sina says. “Like for me, I can go do a burglary and know that if it’s not over $900, they’ll just give me a ticket and let me go.”

L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell says Prop. 47 has “removed the disincentive” to commit crime, while Chief Piper says the law has resulted in an unprecedented rise of calls for service for resisting arrest on officers. Michael Mejia was on probation under AB 109, the result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision and a precursor to Prop. 47 that mandates early release for “nonviolent” offenders. Considering that Los Angeles County has a problem with frequently misclassifying thousands of violent and serious offenses as nonviolent or minor offenses, Prop. 47 and AB 109 have resulted in the release of a legion of dangerous criminals into the population. But the chief architect of the law, Lenore Anderson, says “Proposition 47 is working.”

“It’s reducing the state prison population,” Anderson says. “It’s giving people second chances and it’s saving state money that has never been saved before.” Do Roy Torres and Officer Boyer get second chances?

There is indeed room in California for criminal justice reform, as well as a need for getting a handle on corruption within certain police departments—but more progressive public policy is not the answer.

Progressives operate under the pretext that any given change they propose or bring about is “good,” by virtue of the fact that it satisfies their Jacobin worldview born in the Petri dishes of “studies” departments across the country. More often than not, however, the march for progress brings terror to town for those who invite it.

But what is a little terror to a progressive? If, as Robespierre said, “Terror is nothing else than swift, severe, indomitable justice,” surely “it flows, then, from virtue.”

About Pedro Gonzalez

Pedro Gonzalez is assistant editor of American Greatness and a Mount Vernon Fellow of the Center for American Greatness. Follow him on Twitter @emeriticus.

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