True public safety doesn’t come from the barrel of a gun or the threat of caging and family separation. We need to stop shoveling ever more of our public money into prisons and policing and instead start investing in building up stable communities. Instead of creating new punishments as “solutions” for every social problem, we need to tackle the root causes that underlie those problems: the poverty, alienation, and desperation that lead to antisocial and harmful behavior.
Currently, much like the federal government always has money for war, and never any for infrastructure or healthcare, our state government always has money for prisons and policing, but never enough for healthcare, housing, education, and food. Our public safety policies should be developed in collaboration with the communities most impacted: both by crime and our current punitive reactions. We need to break with politicians beholden to prison guard and police associations that currently water-down accountability legislation to serve their own interests rather than the interests all Californians have in being safe and healthy.
End money bail. SB 10 was flawed as it replaced one bad bail system for another. The replacement involves using algorithms to predict a person's flight risk, yet, those algorithms often rely on racially and economically biased data. That is why SB 10 lost the support of key racial justice groups liek Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles. We need to re-imagine pretrial diversion without racially or economically biased replacements. As State Senator, I would fight for an end to cash bail, with no biased replacements.
End slavery, and pay incarcerated fire fighters competitive wages. We pay incarcerated people cents on the hour to fight deadly wildfires. It’s time we end slavery to fight our state’s fires.
Reduce the risk of death penalty by COVID-19: release the elderly and people who have nearly completed their sentences. 22 people have died in San Quentin State Prison from COVID-19 as of August 2020--that is 9 more than have been executed in the past 43 years. 53 incarcerated people have died from the virus across the state, as well as Department of Corrections staff. Here are some facts about those who died:
- The average age for infected people was 64
- 93% were considered high risk due to underlying health conditions
- 68% were people with mental health cognitive disabilities
- 83% had a low risk assessment
- 70% were people of color
- 45% had release dates in 2020 or 2021
Every single one of these deaths was preventable. We save at least $81,000 to release someone from a prison in California today. We can reduce the spread of Coronavirus by releasing the elderly and people who have nearly completed their sentences.
End child prisons, close all juvenile detention facilities. 600-700 children are currently detained in California, and children of color are being detained at nearly 3 times the rate of white children. The experience of incarceration, with the institutional dehumanization and removal of familiar settings, is traumatizing for children. This is exacerbated by the fact that juvenile detention centers often lack the mental health resources to sufficiently treat their trauma. I witnessed this as an educator in a youth detention facility in San Mateo County. Far from rehabilitating children, the experience of being in a juvenile detention facility actually increases a child’s likelihood of being incarcerated later in life.
In May 2020, Governor Newsom announced the closure of all juvenile justice facilities run at a state level through the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), relinquishing the role of juvenile detention to individual counties. In 2018, over 90% of the county juvenile detention facilities contained fewer than half of their population capacity. As the empty space in these juvenile detention facilities grows and arrest rates for children are steadily falling, the price of detaining children at a county level has risen. Maintaining juvenile detention facilities is expensive, ineffective, and inhumane. We need to invest in the education, mental healthcare, general healthcare, socializing, and housing of our youth, and close all juvenile detention facilities. AB 1868 and SB 823
Repeal the death penalty. ACA 12 would have put repeal of capital punishment on the November 2020 ballot, but it died in committee. As State Senator, I would revive the effort in the Legislature.
End all mandatory minimums for nonviolent crimes. 20% of people incarcerated in California are serving sentences for nonviolent offenses. In 2019, law enforcement arrested 1,181 people in California on felony marijuana charges. Law enforcement disproportionately arrested people of color, as they made up 78.7% of arrests on these charges.
People and the children of people charged with felonies for drug offenses are ineligible for CalWorks social services, like the CalFresh supplementary food income, geriatric care, and homelessness support programs. SB 378 will decrease the number of people charged as felony drug offenders, maintaining their eligibility for CalWorks social services. As State Senator, I will continue this important progress to reduce mass incarceration.
Fully decriminalize sex work. The criminalization of sex work can eliminate safe avenues of conducting sex work, and a criminal history denies many the possibility of transitioning to other fields of work. SB 233 protects sex workers who are the victim of or witness a felony from being prosecuted for the sex work they were conducting at the time. However, under California law, instances of assault and battery against a person who is not a public servant are classified as misdemeanors. A sex worker who was the victim of such an attack at work would not be protected under SB 233. We need to fully decriminalize sex work.
Reduce the prison population by 50% and close 10 state prisons by 2030. Our current state budget provides about as much funding for prisons as it does for our entire higher education system (UC, CSU’s, and community colleges). Between 1980 and 2020, the California per capita incarceration rate exploded from 0.1% to 0.5% of Californians despite rates for both violent and property crime plummeting. Outdated “Tough on Crime” policies motivated by the “Broken Windows Theory” have proven both ineffective and immoral. We need to invest in people’s futures. Following successful decarceration efforts in San Francisco, we have a viable roadmap for dramatically reducing the jail population across the state. To reduce the prison population by 50%, we must revisit sentencing for individuals prosecuted under outdated value systems including the Three Strikes law, unnecessary gang enhancements, non-violent drug offenses, and minors unjustly prosecuted as adults. Necessarily, we will need to close a number of state prisons in the coming years.
Transform policing in California. See my 10-point Defund and Disarm policing platform here.
De-criminalize poverty and homelessness. Law enforcement and criminal justice are inappropriate responses to poverty and homelessness, and criminalization represents a failure of both rationality and morality. As well, criminalization costs taxpayers more than simply providing the necessary services and support to help individuals stabilize their own lives. Housing is a human right, and we can only solve epidemic homelessness by investing in the acquisition and development of adequate affordable housing (see my housing plan here).
Current politicians address homelessness and other visible aspects of poverty the same way they address most social problems: by creating new criminal offenses or increasing penalties. We need a statewide ban on “sweeps” that destroy the few precious possessions, including vital medicines and hygiene products, of unhoused people.
Extend Cal grants for people in prison. Pell grants are sources of need-based federal financial aid for undergraduate college students, and are designed to help make college more accessible for students from low-income backgrounds. The federal Second Chance Pell Pilot Program allows people currently incarcerated to use federal Pell grants at one of 130 participating colleges and universities across the country, if they enroll in higher education within five years of the date they are eligible to be released from prison. The Second Chance Pell Pilot Program has made it possible for 12,000 inmates to receive Pell grants. Recidivism rates within three years of the initial release are 43% lower for people who were involved in any kind of educational program while in prison. This program has “pilot” status because in 1994, legislation passed that made every person in prison automatically ineligible to receive a Pell grant. 65% of people in prison are prohibited from receiving a Pell grant, despite being otherwise financially eligible. SB 575 would have provided Pell grants for formerly incarcerated people, but Governor Newsom vetoed the legislation. As State Senator, I would help revive this legislation. We need to extend Call grants for all people in prison, because higher education should be accessible and affordable for all who choose to pursue it.
Drop life imprisonment without parole (LWOP) and permanently end the death penalty. 9,154—that’s the number of people once serving sentences of either life with parole, life without parole and those sentenced to death who have been released in the past decade in California alone. Of those, only 240 were serving Life without Parole. Just like the death penalty, LWOP is a moral abomination. There are more than 5,000 Californians serving this sentence of death by imprisonment, including over 200 women, most of whom are victims of sexual and domestic violence themselves (https://droplwop.com). We need to end the practice of life imprisonment without parole.
New sentencing commission for CA. We keep adding ever more crimes to our already bloated criminal code. We need to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. A sentencing commission empowered to re-write the criminal code from scratch could design a more equitable and modern code for the 21st century. Unlike past commissions, we need true community representation, especially from marginalized groups, and we need to exclude actors like the department of corrections that have a vested interest in keeping our current system of mass incarceration in place.
More community members on Board of Parole Hearings. Currently Board of Parole Hearings are composed of mostly ex-law enforcement personnel and other actors within the carceral state, which has meant fewer people being granted parole. The State Senate confirms these appointments from the Governor. We see members of the trans community facing even more barriers to parole and to commutations, because in ways coded or not, BPH has essentially cited being trans as being either a threat to one's safety in the "free world," or an indication that someone cannot be trusted. No doubt, the biases on BPH impact many peoples' freedom, especially those with multiple marginalized identities.
Ban gang injunctions and gang enhancements. Gang injunctions have been found to be both ineffective and a violation of individual rights. Gang enhancements are an unnecessary prosecutorial tool and contribute to epidemic over-charging and mass incarceration. Both rely on subjective interpretations of behavior and culture to determine who is or is not “gang affiliated,” often predicated on the stigmatization of Black and Latinx culture, resulting in deep racial disparities. Absurdly thin evidence has been presented to indicate individual gang affiliation including: being sighted in one’s own neighborhood, being hit by a stray bullet, being searched for possession of firearms with none recovered, “illegally” riding a bike, possession of “suspected” cocaine “residue,” and knowing or being related to another person suspected of gang affiliation.
Neither gang injunctions nor gang enhancements are necessary to ensure public safety and both have been wielded against primarily Black and Latinx people. These strategies must be retired as misguided experiments of the Tough on Crime era of “Broken Windows” criminal justice.