The race war seethes across every known battlefield – including some only recently discovered. Take, for instance, California’s judicial system. It was determined, a few years ago, that black Americans were disproportionately represented in the court system and jails when compared to white people. Seeing this imbalance, Governor Jerry Brown knew he must act – hence the 2014 Proposition 47.
Prop. 47 reduced some nonviolent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and allowed for those previously convicted of said felonies to be resentenced. How does this relate to racial discrepancies, you might ask? It was designed to target a specific race. A study was conducted in the city of San Francisco and reported on – though not actually cited by – the San Francisco Chronicle:
African Americans have long been overrepresented in the criminal justice system in the United States due to a combination of factors, but the report suggests the disparity between blacks and whites in arrests and case outcomes in San Francisco is narrowing.
Black Americans only account for 6% of the city’s population, yet prior to Prop. 47, they represented 43% of those jailed. After the measure’s passage, that number dropped to 38%.
The study also found that black defendants had been given sentences averaging 3.4 months longer than white defendants — a disparity caused by factors that include pretrial detention and criminal history, which disproportionately affect African Americans. However, since Prop. 47, that discrepancy in sentence lengths has dropped by half, according to the report.
Understandably, police officials across the state were not thrilled with the proposition. It allowed criminals they had fought to take off the streets back into the same neighborhoods, making their jobs all the more difficult.
True, the deflated felonies were non-violent crimes, but they were still severe enough to warrant strong punishment. The main changes include:
• Shoplifting, where the value of property stolen does not exceed $950
• Grand theft, where the value of the stolen property does not exceed $950
• Receiving stolen property, where the value of the property does not exceed $950
• Forgery, where the value of forged check, bond or bill does not exceed $950
• Fraud, where the value of the fraudulent check, draft or order does not exceed $950
• Writing a bad check, where the value of the check does not exceed $950
• Personal use of most illegal drugs
UC Berkeley public policy Professor and co-author of the study Steven Raphael told The Chronicle:
“If you start from a position where African Americans are more likely to be detained pretrial — and you factor in that being detained pretrial is more likely to lead to a guilty plea — then reducing the likelihood of pretrial detention is going to transfer to the narrowing of racial disparities in case outcomes.”
So, what are we saying here, folks? Apparently, we apply sentences based on race rather than the actual crime. Doesn’t that sound a bit like racial profiling? Continuing along this illogic, why not extend this to the numerous Hispanic gang members currently incarcerated in the state? That would drastically thin out prison populations.
True, the measure did help reduce the costs associated with jailing criminals and put extra money into the Golden State’s very blue pockets. But is it really improving society? A thief who stole to support a drug habit, for example, will continue to steal and do what it takes to feed his addiction. How long before basic thievery turns more malicious? Forgery and fraud should be considered felonies, especially with the popularity of identity theft, yet these types of criminals have been given a pass and were released back in the general population to once again take advantage of others – risking only another misdemeanor should they be caught.
But all practical effects of this measure aside – why is California adjusting the severity of crimes according to the race that commits them? Is that not just as racist – albeit in the other direction – as imposing harsher sentences based on race?