This originally appeared on Glide.org
When I learned that the California Parole for Non-Violent Criminals and Juvenile Court Trial Requirements Initiative, otherwise known as Prop 57, would be on the ballot this November, my curiosity was immediately piqued. I am a writer who has published essays on the destruction of mass incarceration. I am a co-chair of the Glide Memorial Church Racial Justice Group, a team devoted to fighting racism/white supremacy. Most importantly, I am a Black man in America. I see the importance of Prop 57.
In a report published by the State of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in 2015, the prison population in 2016 is projected to be at 127,815. Many of these offenders have been imprisoned on theft and drug crimes. Prop 57 would increase parole chances for felons convicted of non-violent crimes and give them more opportunities to earn credits for good behavior. It would also allow judges, not prosecutors, to decide whether to try certain juveniles as adults in court, which is significant due to the passing of Prop 21 in 2000, which gave the discretion to prosecutors. The San Jose Mercury News reported that since 2003 “Human Rights Watch said more than 10,000 California offenders under 18 have been tried as adults — and 7,200 of them are directly filed in adult court with no oversight by a judge.” Prop 57 could decrease the swelling inmate count in California by continuing the great work of Governor Jerry Brown and his endorsement of Prop 47, the initiative that reclassifies some drug and property offenses as misdemeanors instead of felonies.
Growing up in the late 80’s, I saw the destruction that crack cocaine and the war on drugs had on my community. Many families had been ripped apart by addiction and the draconian drug laws such as Mandatory Minimums and the Three Strike initiative. Young men and women who had made mistakes were paying exorbitant prices for bad decisions. Our prisons had been filling up due to “life style crimes” and overwhelmingly, Black and Brown people constituted the bulk of the institutions. I remember a few people from my neighborhood that fell victim to the war on drugs and languished in greater confinement, not able to make parole or accumulate credit for good behavior. I feel that a measure like Prop 57 would have helped them re-enter society quickly and be reunited with their families.
Last year I was given a chance to visit San Quentin prison and listen to inmates talk about the rehabilitation programs the facility offered. While I was not surprised at the intellect these men possessed, what struck me as sad was the potential being squandered by having these men imprisoned. I believe that if they were given another chance, these guys would make it. That is why I, along with Glide Church, an organization that has stood for restorative justice for over 50 years, is supporting Prop 57. This initiative is another step in changing our prison system from punitive to rehabilitative and chipping away at the wall of the prison industrial complex. If America is truly a nation that believes in giving human beings another chance in life, then supporting this measure should be a given. Please vote yes on Prop 57.