The societal costs — both human and financial — of these policies and practices are enormous, and growing. California — which carried a $15.2 billion deficit into this fiscal year — spends $10 billion per year on more than 170,000 inmates. Like the Bay State, California also faces high recidivism rates; state records show that more than two-thirds of released inmates return to prison within three years. In this context, a ballot battle — possibly more contentious than Massachusetts's Question 2 scuffle — raged this past election season. Two separate initiatives, each from vastly different perspectives, concerned the state's approach to criminal justice.

The first, Proposition 5, would have expanded treatment programs for those convicted of drug-related and nonviolent crimes. While the costs for more rehabilitation were estimated at $1 billion a year, analysts said $2.5 billion would have been saved from the reduction in prison costs. But, much like what transpired in Massachusetts, the California District Attorney's Association, along with other law-enforcement agencies, vehemently opposed the initiative. These agencies raised nearly $400,000 and, through the Web site of their umbrella group, People Against Proposition 5, issued "facts" such as "Proposition 5 creates an 'Express Lane' for drug dealers to get back on the streets and peddling dope to our kids."

Conversely, nearly $1 billion would have been added to the cops' coffers under Proposition 6, which proposed new laws for prosecutors to fight gang activity. Many of the same law-enforcement agencies that opposed Prop 5 supported Prop 6, joined by some "tough-on-crime" lawmakers who slashed $3 billion in education from the state's 2008 budget. Included among the Prop 6 supporters was — you guessed it — the CCA.

The CCA's lobbying efforts, as well as those of publicly funded law-enforcement agents, wasn't enough to convince Californians, as nearly 70 percent of voters opposed Prop 6. Yet similarly high numbers opted against Prop 5.

Maybe the cops' Prop 6 push for more crime-fighting money and power were too transparent for voters. Interestingly, though, their appeals to public safety in opposing Prop 5 seemed to work. California voters were quite possibly unaware that, by maintaining strict criminal laws and closing off alternatives to incarceration, law-enforcement agencies maintained their strength.

The 1 percent solution?
From Niccolò Machiavelli to Rudy Giuliani, fear has been the foundation of ever-expanding political power (and, for some, job status and security). And it continues to drive the prison-industrial complex.

Just as the United States Department of Justice was able to pressure Congress to enact the infamous USA-Patriot Act in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, here in the Bay State, an appeal to fear ("protect the children") prevailed in stampeding the legislature. In late July, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law "An Act Further Protecting Children," a bill providing stricter mandatory-minimum sentences for sex offenders who target children.

The way this legislation was presented made opposition appear callous and irresponsible. Who, after all, wouldn't want to keep child predators off the streets?

Yet tucked away in this bill are provisions that do far more than simply protect the young. The proposal enables prosecutors to obtain private records from Internet and telephone providers by issuing an "administrative subpoena." Prosecutors, having only to assert that records are "relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation," were granted ever-expanding access into otherwise personal data. The telecoms, in turn, were granted blanket immunity from claims of privacy violation. There was no mass protest from the customers.

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Related: Are doctors complicit in prison torture?, Advocates renew challenge to punitive probation practices, Prison in turmoil, More more >
  Topics: News Features , Deval Patrick, U.S. Government, Cynthia Creem,  More more >
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