Criminal Justice?

David KuhnInformed voters realize that our criminal justice system suffers from injustices. It does not respect the rights of all who come in contact; we are a nation who has become the world’s largest jailer, even ahead of Russia and China. Over the past thirty years, the prison population has increased by an astonishing 371%. Statistics indicate that with only 5% of the world’s population, the U .S. has 25% of the world’s prisoners! A 127% jump from 1987 in cost, yet, in this same time period spending on higher education rose just 21%. The question is: How do we go about dealing effectively with discrimination and unnecessary punishment for non-serious, non-violent and non-sexual offenders who fill our jails and prisons?

A film, The House I live In, presented May 14 at Crawford High School and attended by several club members, thoughtfully depicts the negative effects of a system, in which decades of racially bias and ineffective criminal justice policies were established throughout our nation. Afterward the producer, David Kuhn, and the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties were there to take questions.

In this documentary victims were given the opportunity to tell their story. They partner with politically aware citizens willing to fight for change in California’s prisons, where staff and prisoners experience extreme harm and “needless suffering and death” due to inadequate health care among other injustices. In its 2011 Brown v. Plata decision, the U.S. Supreme Court mandated that California must stop imprisoning so many people. The Court invoked the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In reaction to this ruling, California, in The Public Safety Realignment Act (AB 109) enacted in October 2011, gave its 58 counties the power and responsibility to supervise non-serious, non violent, and non-sexual offenders. Consequently, many counties are currently expanding jails and law enforcement budgets, instead of garnering tools and incentives to reduce recidivism necessary to bring the Supreme Court’s mandate to fruition. The State must provide guidance to the Counties to implement rehabilitation of the offender or, otherwise, the serious problem will be perpetrated.

Most residents of California are aware of the impact the Three Strikes Law ( and The War on Drugs have made in our prisons. After the film, The egregious effects of these laws became personal to us in a plea by Jeremy Stewart’s mother, Elizabeth Stewart, who spoke for release of her son from his medieval sentence of seventy years to life, whichever comes first, for what amounts to property theft . Yes, there were bad choices on his part to steal and use crystal meth. His crimes are non-violent youthful offenses for which many could be accused and many have overcome through drug treatment or minor citations. Jeremy does not qualify for Proposition 36’s reduced sentencing opportunity passed by voters in 2012. There are hundreds like him in the system and as tax payers we pay the bill. According to his mother 3 million is the price tag placed on Jeremy’s incarceration. Oh I should point out in 60 years he is eligible for probation??? Learn more by going to the facts1 website for Families Amending California Three Strikes FACTS .

The film showed how little understanding was there for people who suffer from addiction, poverty and abuse. Under Governor Jerry Brown’s father, Gov. Edmund Brown, California once had a model prison system, which was particularly sensitive to these needs with a high success rate. Bring it back. Many politicians campaigned in the past on, “I will be tough on crime”, and they demanded a war on drugs. As a result, we got decades of ineffectual criminal justice policies. There must be fairness in the system for which Jeremy Stewart’s friends and family and hundreds like them are fighting. California and the nation are facing a crisis and need new methods to deal with crime and punishment through our courts and the legislative process. The screening points out that there is a way; organize affected populations and politically aware individuals to fight for change.

Carol Heasley

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