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Sacramento’s Experiment in Criminal Justice Reform Has Failed

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Sacramento’s Experiment in Criminal Justice Reform Has Failed

A San Mateo County Sheriff's Department officer puts up police tape at a crime scene after a shooting at the Spanish Town shops in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on Jan. 24, 2023. (Samantha Laurey/AFP via Getty Images)

Diane Dixon

Diane Dixon

8/31/2023

Updated: 8/31/2023

Commentary
California’s crime rates are on the rise, resulting from self-imposed measures to tie the hands of law enforcement and all but eliminate custodial sentences. Progressive ideas for law enforcement, like zero bail, have done nothing to keep our communities safe and have given criminals the green light to continue to victimize our communities across the state with little or no consequences.
We see firsthand the consequences of these “reform” measures in Oakland, where the Alameda County District Attorney (DA), Pamela Price, faces a recall campaign for taking a soft-on-crime approach, resulting in dire consequences for the community’s safety. In an interview with CBS last month, she evaded a question about skyrocketing crime in Alameda County by saying, “The DA’s role has really no impact on crime,” a shocking admission to avoid taking responsibility for her failures.
The crime situation in Oakland has reached record levels, leading the local NAACP to write a scathing letter to Ms. Price, saying residents are “sick and tired” of the shootings, car-break-ins, and highway shootouts and demanded city leaders declare a state of emergency.
“There is nothing compassionate or progressive about allowing criminal behavior to fester and rob Oakland residents of their basic rights to public safety,” the letter read. “It is not racist or unkind to want to be safe from crime. No one should live in fear in our city.”
As a result of “restorative justice” policies, Oakland’s homicide count was reportedly up by 80 percent in July—compared to 2019. Assaults and robberies were up by 40 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Unfortunately, statistics like these are not limited to Oakland.
Over the last decade, California’s progressive, soft-on-crime laws have made many communities more dangerous. Each year, new reform laws are passed by the legislature to downgrade serious felonies to misdemeanors with reduced sentences. This year, one bill in particular stands out. Senate Bill 94 was introduced to allow certain inmates (the worst of the worst) serving life without the possibility of parole to be resentenced by the courts. Combined with the new “elder parole” rules, SB 94 would allow for the release of many of these inmates who are over 50 years old and have served only 20 years in custody.
A condemned inmate is led out of his east block cell on death row at San Quentin State Prison, in San Quentin, Calif., in a file image. (Eric Risberg/AP Photo)

A condemned inmate is led out of his east block cell on death row at San Quentin State Prison, in San Quentin, Calif., in a file image. (Eric Risberg/AP Photo)

If that isn’t enough of a concern, it additionally goes against the will of the voters. In 1990, Californians passed Proposition 115 which amended the State Constitution to require a sentence of death, or life in prison without the possibility of parole for a conviction of first-degree murder with special circumstances. Any change to life without parole for first-degree murder must be approved by the voters.
By moving SB 94 through the legislative process, the Legislature is seeking to overturn these sentences and potentially thousands of verdicts by jurors—not by a vote of our citizens but by the super-majority of the state Legislature. For more than 40 years, prosecutors and judges have told the families that the killers convicted of murder with special circumstances and sentenced to life without parole that “the killer of your loved one will never get out of prison to kill again.” Passing SB 94 will make them liars and re-traumatize victims’ families all over again.
An example of a convicted killer that may be released if SB 94 passes is Mike Goodwin. He was convicted of the 1988 execution murder of Hall of Fame race car driver Mickey Thompson and his wife Trudy and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Goodwin would soon be eligible for release.
Society will not be safe from these killers if SB 94 is passed. California is at a criminal justice crossroads. Do we continue to undermine our criminal justice system and allow criminals and early-released prisoners sentenced to life sentences to run rampant across our state while the Legislature stands by unwilling to act, or will we finally wake up to the failure of this lawless society that is destroying communities, families, and businesses and demand legislative action?
The people of California are demanding change. The only question is, will those in power heed the pleas of crime victims or will the criminals continue to rule our streets?
Diane Dixon

Diane Dixon

Author

Diane Dixon has served as California Assemblywoman for District 72 since 2022. She was previously elected to the Newport Beach City Council in 2014, where she served two terms as Mayor.

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