Wednesday, October 8, 2008
California Judges Association Urges Rejection of Proposition 5
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Judges Association yesterday urged voters to reject Proposition 5 on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.
In what its president called a “rare and extraordinary action,” the group said the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act, as its sponsors call it, “will have a tremendously negative impact on the administration of justice in California.”
CJA President and San Francisco Superior Court Judge Mary Wiss said in a statement on behalf of the group:
“California courts cannot afford Proposition 5. It will financially crush the courts. In Los Angeles alone implementing Proposition 5 is expected to cost the court an additional $63 million. The court budgets have been slashed for the coming year, and the Proposition fails to provide any means for the courts to carry out their mandates.”
Wiss noted that Los Angeles County alone estimates that it will need to hold 550,000 additional hearings per year to comply with the mandates of the measure, which is designed to expand upon existing programs that provide drug offenders and others convicted of nonviolent crimes with alternatives to prison.
“Proposition 5 severely limits judicial discretion,” Wiss said. “It forces judges to adopt drug treatment plans that are not yet established or proven. Moreover, it prohibits judges from developing courses of action that are sensitive to the individual needs of people with drug-related problems who are going through probation and parole.”
According to the official analysis of the measure prepared by state officials, Proposition 5 would, among other things, appropriate $460 million annually to improve and expand treatment programs for persons convicted of drug and other offenses; limit court authority to incarcerate offenders who commit certain drug crimes, break drug treatment rules or violate parole; and substantially shorten parole for certain drug offenses while increasing the length of parole for serious and violent felonies.
Supporters of the measure include a number of political, civil rights, and criminal justice reform groups, including the California Democratic Party and the National Drug Policy Alliance, which is spearheading the effort to approve it. They argue that previous reforms, including voter-approved Proposition 36, have proven that alternatives to prison for nonvioment offenders work and that Proposition 5 will expand upon the limited number of individuals who are being diverted under those programs.
Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, a spokesperson for the Yes on 5 campaign, said the CJA’s “basic premise is wrong,” because courts could receive a share of the funds appropriated by the measure for program administration. She was, however, uncertain as to how that could be accomplished, since all of the funding provided for in the act is appropriated to the executive branch.
She also contended that courts would experience savings in the long term because those diverted into rehabilitation programs under the initiative would “not be showing up with new offenses later.” Dooley-Sammuli said “courts should be changed from processing centers to doing successful interventions in cases where that’s possible.”
Proposition 5 is opposed by a number of law enforcement and anti-drug groups, and by a majority of the state’s district attorneys, including Steve Cooley of Los Angeles County and Bonnie Dumanis of San Diego County, who is currently president of the California District Attorneys Association and has been talked about as a possible Republican candidate for attorney general in 2010.
Cooley and Dumanis both signed ballot arguments against the measure, which opponents have dubbed the “Drug Dealers’ Bill of Rights” because it would reduce parole periods for persons convicted of some drug offenses beyond mere possession.
The measure is not needed to keep first-time offenders out of prison, Cooley is quoted as saying, because “[n]o first-time offender arrested in California solely for drug possession goes to prison—ever.”
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company