Thursday, October 30, 2014

Federal Court Hearing: Declassifying Marijuana

On Monday, the federal court of the Eastern District held a hearing challenging the classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. Among the scientists testifying was Dr. Carl Hart, whom some of you may remember from the movie The House I Live In. There's a blow-by-blow account of the testimonies in the case, U.S. v. Schweder, in this blog.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

CCC Endorsements for the November Elections: Yes on 47 and Other Matters

After a bit of a hiatus, CCC is coming back with some election endorsements for Californians. In this endorsement list, I point out only issues that are particular to crime, law enforcement, and corrections; of course, your vote may be influenced by other matters as well.


State Measures

Yes on 47


Prop 47 would reduce sentencing. According to Ballotpedia, which faithfully summarizes the proposition's text, if it were to pass, it would:

  • Mandate misdemeanors instead of felonies for “non-serious, nonviolent crimes," unless the defendant has prior convictions for murder, rape, certain sex offenses or certain gun crimes. A list of crimes that would be affected by the penalty reduction are listed below.
  • Permit re-sentencing for anyone currently serving a prison sentence for any of the offenses that the initiative reduces to misdemeanors. About 10,000 inmates would be eligible for resentencing, according to Lenore Anderson of Californians for Safety and Justice.
  • Require a “thorough review” of criminal history and risk assessment of any individuals before re-sentencing to ensure that they do not pose a risk to the public.
  • Create a Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund. The fund would receive appropriations based on savings accrued by the state during the fiscal year, as compared to the previous fiscal year, due to the initiative’s implementation. Estimates range from $150 million to $250 million per year.
  • Distribute funds from the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund as follows: 25 percent to the Department of Education, 10 percent to the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board and 65 percent to the Board of State and Community Correction.

Right now, there is about 60% support for Prop 47. As the Chronicle observes, it seems to be stirring little controversy, and for good reason: it makes sense. You'll note that this is a classic humonetarian proposal--let's not throw low-risk people in prison who shouldn't really be there in the first place, and we'll save millions doing so. The money is going to a fund that invests in education, victim compensation, and various therapeutic projects. The arguments against it can be easily dispensed with: it won't "release dangerous people", because it takes risk into account. It is supported, in grand Cheap on Crime fashion, by people from the left and the right alike, and by victims of crime, who would rather see energy spent on violent offenders. By all means, go ahead and vote YES on 47.

U.S. House

House Representative: Jackie Speier

Speier is one of my favorite politicians. Her work to prevent sexual assault in the military and on university campuses is admirable, as is her sensible approach to databases that would enable tracking down gun ownership. I should say, however, that if you're a Republican on other maters, you could do far worse than Robin Chew, who would work to reverse climate change and who believes in sensible regulatory reform.

California Supreme Court

Of the three Justices up for retention, I want to mention and support Goodwin Liu, with whom I've had a chance to exchange views on criminal justice matters, and who is a sensible and careful interpreter of the CA constitution.

State Executives

Governor: No Endorsement


The race is between incumbent Jerry Brown and libertarian Republican Neel Kashkari. Kashkari has no platform at all on public safety, criminal justice, or corrections, which is truly astonishing given the amount of time the Brown administration spent on these matters, and his focus on "jobs and education" doesn't seem to include the close connections between these topics and corrections. Obviously, we can't recommend him. On the other hand, Jerry Brown has maintained that the correctional problem in California has been solved, has fought the Plata order tooth and nail to the point of almost contempt of court, and has practically extorted federal judges into giving him two more years for depopulation under threat of heavy privatizing. Between a bad track record on corrections and no interest in the topic at all, I think it's a toss-up.

Lieutenant Governor: Gavin Newsom 


Yes, I know. Newsom is responsible for sit/lie in San Francisco. But do we really want Ron Nehring in the lieutenant governor's chair? He wants to repeal Realignment and build more prisons. It's a very antiquated and uninformed conservative position, one that most reasonable conservatives have already rejected. This one is a no-brainer.

California Attorney General: Kamala Harris, with Reservations


Having recently heard, with a heavy heart, about Harris' intent to appeal Jones v. Chappell for reasons that don't make any sense to me, and watched, with concern, her battle against truancy stigmatize kids and parents along the way, this one is not a no-brainer for me. The correlation between truancy and crime does not necessarily imply causation, and the cause of both--poverty and social neglect--is the one that should be addressed. This campaign is failing to excite voters, but I think it's for the opposite reasons to those the Gold campaign assumes. We're disappointed because we want Harris to be smarter on crime, not because we want Gold to be tough on crime. Gold supports legalization of recreational marijuana, but he is inexperienced and does not have thought-out policies on all the issues we are addressing. For what it's worth, he urged Harris to appeal Jones v. Chappell, so death penalty issues are a toss-up. There doesn't seem to be much of a platform for rehabilitation, though Harris can cite her collaboration with the Public Defender's office on Operation Clean Slate.

California Secretary of State: No Endorsement


With Leland Yee, who despite his alleged involvement in corrupted dealings was a big champion for juvenile delinquents in the State Assembly, out of the race, we're left with a choice between Alex Padilla and Pete Peterson. No one has asked them the important question--do they interpret the CA constitution as Debra Bowen did, to exclude Realigned felons doing time in jails as ineligible to vote? While both candidates speak about the need to improve civics education, Padilla seems to be more interested in actually reaching out to people to expand the vote, but Peterson has some good suggestions for increasing the vote via early voting and other options of convenience.

State Legislature: Notable Issues


Tom Ammiano is not running for reelection, and we thank him for his consistently incredible, sensible, and humane service to folks without voices and voting rights, including the thousands of people on solitary confinement. Neither in Nancy Skinner, who was an important voice for eliminating long-term solitary confinement. In District 17 (San Francisco) you'll have to pick between David Chiu and David Campos. People I respect support each of these candidates for good reasons. I'm leaning toward an endorsement of Campos, because of his important anti-gang work, but am open to hearing more.

***

If all you remember from this post is to vote YES on 47, I've done my job.



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

All Counties Committed to Enrolling Inmates in Health Care!

A new report by Californians for Safety and Justice and the Local Safety Solutions Project announces good news: pretty much all California counties are committed to enrolling their criminal justice populations in health care, and 70% of counties are actively doing so.


Where does the funding for this welcome activity come from?


This is excellent news. As we know, many formerly incarcerated people don't necessarily have the resources or know-how to deal with the intricacies of Obamacare and are walking out of jail systems whose health care services are sometimes truly deficient. This guarantees that, as people return to life on the outside, they'll be covered and protected.

Today at Noon, PST: Interview about Cheap on Crime on KPFA

Today at noon, PST, KPFA will air an hour-long interview I did with C.S. Soong from Against the Grain about my forthcoming book, Cheap on Crime. It was a great conversation. Here are some details on how to listen:
To Listen Live:
KPFA 94.1 FM in the Bay Area and beyond
KFCF 88.1 FM in Fresno and the Central Valley
Online, worldwide: http://www.kpfa.org.
To access the recording afterward:
http://www.againstthegrain.org/

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Nail Polish, or Why Left Realism Fights Rape Culture Better than Radical Demagogy

An interesting invention is making the rounds on social media website: four college students have invented nail polish that would allow its wearer, by inserting their finger into their drink, to detect whether a roofie--frequently used by rapists to overpower their victims--has been mixed into it. The company is called Undercover Colors.

This is a very practical, simple cautionary tool, and may help to spare many women, and some men, too, a traumatic and horrible experience. But the new invention has found some detractors, who in the name of radical feminism criticize the inventors as facilitating rape culture by placing the preventive responsibility onto the shoulders of the victims (see here and here.)

I'm sorry, I have to call bullshit when I see it. And this presumably feminist critique of prevention is grade-A bullshit.

It should probably go without saying that, like any decent human being on the planet, I am committed to ending rape culture, and that I believe that the fault for rape lies squarely on the shoulders of the rapist, which is why I really liked this campaign. Happily, evaluative research has found it to be effective in teaching men to be more respectful toward their partners.

But I get very, very upset when the people who purport to be fighting rape culture seem to be okay with not fighting rape itself, and especially with the radical demagogy that equates sensible self-protection with embracing rape culture.

Of course it is not the victim's responsibility to prevent crime. It is, of course, anyone's right to go anywhere they wish, wearing whatever they wish, without inviting physical or sexual assault. Nonetheless, we know that crime happens when there is opportunity, and many rapists are opportunists. And each of us takes preventive measures daily, to the extent that they are compatible with our lives and appreciation of freedom. We lock our house doors, we don't leave valuables in the car, we don't escalate arguments with angry drivers. And sometimes we make the choice not to engage in excessive self-protection, when we feel it infringes upon our lives too much, such as, for example, going out anywhere we wish, at any time of the day, wearing whatever we like. Doing so, of course, does not make us blameworthy if something bad happens to us. But taking measures that don't infringe upon that feeling of freedom has the potential of minimizing our odds of victimization, and doing that shouldn't make us blameworthy, either, for inventing such measures, using them, or recommending them to others.

The rhetoric against rape culture also pulls the rug under sensible and empowering acts like taking a self-defense class, even though we know that fighting back significantly reduces the odds of rape completion. Why, in the name of self righteousness and feminist idealism, would I deny myself, my family members and my friends the odds of survival and victory? How is this empowering? How is this preventing rape?

Moreover, as my friend and colleague Edi Kinney mentioned in a Facebook conversation about this:

[T]aking the opportunity to recenter discussions about rape culture to blame rapists is something activists have to do, but to me, we need to take advantage of allyship in its diverse forms and applaud practical efforts to engage in efforts to address sexual violence. What we've been doing hasn't worked. I think we should be emphasizing the fact that the men who developed the product were inspired to do because so many of their own friends had been drugged & sexually assaulted and they wanted to do something to empower their friends and other women w/ tools to identify risks. They apparently had scientific/lab/other expertise that they could deploy to that end, and were motivated to do so out of an effort to give women tools to help them protect themselves. IMHO, their allyship intentions -- AND the fact that bros who see social media accounts of this now might think twice re. engaging in predatory behavior at parties, bars, etc. -- trump the potential to reinforce 'blame the victim' rape culture. Rapists are opportunists, and I'd reckon there's a slippery slope between date rape and predatory behavior, and any tools to identify folks who engage in such behavior seems like a good start (and at least it's raising awareness?)

I think we have enough room for short-term and long-term strategies in the war against rape culture. In the long term, our commitment should be to eradicate it off the face of the earth. But in setting our sites on that and firing up our keyboards with feminist rhetoric, let's not forget that this thing we're fighting is not just an ideology. IT'S REAL AND IT'S VICTIMIZING WOMEN RIGHT NOW. And our first and foremost commitment to potential victims is to prevent their victimization as effectively and practically as possible, without stigmatizing them for it. Let's not lose sight of real rape when talking about the culture that produces it.