Stealth Initiative Threatens California Youth, Immigrants
New America Media, Commentary//, Kevin Weston//Video: Paul Billingsley and Charles Jones Posted: Aug 21, 2008
Editor's Note: Silent but deadly, Prop. 6 is the ballot measure that no one has heard of, but that could have catastrophic effects on young people in California, writes Kevin Weston.
SAN FRANCISCO -- With Proposition 6 on the California ballot this November, young people in the Golden State have a reason to vote that trumps putting the first non-white man in the White House.
The Runner Initiative – or the “Safe Neighborhood Act” – is the single worst thing that could happen to California youth since the passage of Proposition 21 allowed 16 year-olds to be tried as adults. Prop. 6 does Prop. 21 one better – it would allow 14-year-old “gang members” to be tried as adults.
Video: Christina Gomez of the Burns Institiute/The Community Justice Network for Youth (CJNY) on Prop. 6 and it's potential effects on California's young people.
This “son of Three Strikes” (Prop. 184) – Prop. 6 was written by Three Strikes author Mike Reynolds -- is like the Stealth Bomber of laws, cruising at the speed of sound past California voters with a payload of nukes aimed at youth and undocumented immigrants. I sat in a roomful of journalists last week and not one had heard of it. This speaks to the lack of beat reporters in California as the newspaper industry implodes. Hundreds of journalists have been laid off or bought out, leaving the public ill-informed about this impending legislative hurricane.
One of Prop. 6’s most troublesome aspects is the gang enhancement stipulation that would add time and other penalties to those identified as gang members.
California’s gang database CAL/GANG, the largest statewide gang database in the country, lists more than 100,000 names. The data is so untrustworthy that former California Attorney General Bill Lockyer refused to forward them to federal authorities. He told the San Francsico Chronicle: “This database cannot and should not be used, in California or elsewhere, to decide whether or not a person is dangerous or should be detained.”
Young people who have been unfairly labeled as gang members would now face the harshest of penalties through a system that is already broken and flawed.
The proposition would prohibit undocumented immigrants charged with certain offenses from being released on bail or on their own recognizance, pending trial. Already under tremendous social pressure from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, state and local governments, this is just one more nail in the coffin of immigrant rights in California.
It would create temporary prisons in counties that are currently experiencing overcrowding. Imagine tent prisons housing the overflow of inmates that the Proposition would create. The California prison system is already under fire over everything from inadequate health care to overcrowding caused by mandatory minimum sentences.
Funding priorities would be switched from mental health, drug treatment and community programs. All monies would have to pass through county probation departments before reaching mental health and drug treatment programs. Prop 6 stipulates that the funding “shall be distributed…to assist counties for the expense of housing juvenile offenders.”
The implication here is that money for anything other than housing would be in jeopardy. Rehabilitation programs could be wiped out.
Prop. 6 significantly increases expenditures for criminal justice programs, including net program costs likely to exceed $1 billion, and is estimated to cost an additional $500 million a year after that. This new spending comes during a period in which the state of California is facing a budget crisis of historic proportions, prompting Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to ask for steep cuts the Democratic controlled state legislature is refusing to pass. Services like child care centers and nursing homes are feeling the crunch during the impasse.
California simply can’t afford to take money from the general fund – mainly education – to pay for this ill-conceived initiative.
Adding insult to injury, the law would require local governments to conduct annual criminal background checks on recipients of federal housing subsidies. Everyone in the house must be background-checked and if anyone is found guilty of a drug crime or a violent crime, the whole family would be evicted.
Prop. 6 would also significantly increase (to life in prison) the penalty for home invasion robbery, carjacking, carrying firearms and extortion.
Ironically, the billionaire who financed the initiative, Henry Nicholas III, was indicted this summer on numerous felony charges including charges of supplying prostitutes to big-ticket customers, drug use and trafficking, conspiracy, security fraud and making death threats. People like Nichols are hardly in a position to pass judgment on the immigrants and young people of California.
While gangs and violence are a major concern to voters, laws like Prop. 6 don’t work. An editorial in the New York Times states, “Criminologists warn that juvenile offenders who are thrown in with adult prisoners are exposed to social pressures and develop personal contacts that make it far more likely that they will become career criminals than those held in juvenile facilities.”
While Prop. 8 – the Gay Marriage Initiative – gets all the headlines, Prop. 6 is sneaking under the radar of the media, politicians and the immigrants and young people it targets. Obama holds a double-digit lead in California over John McCain. Youth who were energized to vote for change through Obama now have a better reason to go to the polls this fall: voting against Prop. 6.
Kevin Weston, director of new media and youth communications for New America Media is the publisher of YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia. Paul Billingsley and Charles Jones are content producers at New America Media.
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