CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM IS WORKING
Special to the Ventura County Star
Published April 14th, 2018
As someone who devoted my entire professional career to law enforcement, I believe in the smart administration of criminal justice: using our resources to maximize public safety. This means preventing crime in the first place, providing treatment over incarceration in cases where it can stop the revolving doors of prison and jail, and removing those whose violent behavior is chronic and a clear danger to a community.
Decades of costly mass incarceration have led many Californians to agree. Recent criminal justice reforms passed by a clear majority in California have begun to bring balance back to a system that invested far too much, and for too long, in responding to criminal conduct and not nearly enough in local crime prevention programs. The conventional wisdom of the past favored harsher sentencing and longer imprisonment. That’s why California is in the incarceration mess it is in today.
But reform initiatives that actually address treating the root causes of crime, such as addiction and mental illness, are gaining acceptance nationwide. And for good reason. A focus on the root causes of crimes reduces criminal behavior, keeps our communities safer and can keep crimes from occurring in the first place. We need to shift from reactive policies to proactive approaches. It is simply a smarter use of resources.
Proposition 47, for example, has not only reduced the state’s prison and jail populations, it’s also already produced more than $100 million in savings that have been reallocated to crime prevention and public safety programs in local communities across the state. Those savings are enhancing crime prevention programs, unclogging court calendars and reducing violent crime, just as similar programs have done across the country and world.
Unfortunately, citizens of California are being misled by the so-called “Initiative for Public Safety.” This measure, which could appear on the November ballot, is in the signature-gathering phase. This effort relies on falsehoods and empty scare tactics in its quest to reverse successful statewide criminal justice reforms.
Let’s be clear: Another proposition passed by voters, 57, did not authorize automatic release from custody, and anyone serving a sentence for a violent offense is excluded from such consideration. No one can be released unless a parole board deems a person is safe to return to the community and, to date, 80 percent of the parole hearings held under Prop. 57 have ended in denials. Further, every study done on the question has found Prop. 47 is not responsible for any upticks in crime.
Police personnel shortages, the low priority assigned to property crime prevention and investigation, and a lack of resources invested in juvenile crime prevention are the principal contributing factors to an increase in property crimes. Actual data show the majority of reported property crimes, such as minor theft, vandalism and residential break-ins, are committed by juveniles, not hardened criminals.
Nearly every reputable study, including the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, has shown violent crime in the United States has been on a clear downward trajectory for decades. In California, violent crime has fallen by nearly 50 percent since 1992, and property crime by 42 percent.
Criminologists, social scientists, political scientists, criminal justice statisticians and even law enforcement experts generally agree the greatest contributing factors in crime reduction are our aging population, increased income levels, more education opportunities, decreased alcohol consumption, enhanced crime prevention and significant improvements in how police serve their community.
The proponents of the “Initiative for Public Safety” don’t want voters to know the facts and prefer to instill fear by creating visions of criminal hordes invading our communities.
Prosecutors should focus on their legal obligation to make our communities safer by prosecuting violations of the law — and leave political grandstanding to politicians and criminal justice reform decisions to legislators and the voters.
I state with great confidence and professional pride that criminal justice reform is working and we must stay the course.
Thomas Parker is a former Thousand Oaks resident and a retired assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Regional Office. He is a speaker for the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), a nonprofit group of police and other criminal justice professionals who advance public safety solutions.