Thursday, December 3, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 40

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on October 21st, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 34 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 34

Propositions 20 and 25 would impact sentence lengths, DNA collection, parole, and cash bail system

By Malea Martin

California voters will have the opportunity to vote on criminal justice reforms through two separate measures on the ballot this November: Propositions 20 and 25.

Proposition 20 would restrict access to parole for some nonviolent offenses, increase penalties for certain theft-related crimes, and add opportunities for DNA collection. The fiscal result would be higher law enforcement costs. 

Proponents argue that it closes a loophole allowing some offenders to be released early through parole programs, while opponents call it a prison spending scam that would result in cuts to rehabilitation and mental health funding. 

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley is in favor of the measure. She said her main reasons for supporting it come down to the increased opportunities for DNA collection and the higher penalties for certain theft-related crimes.

“Because of DNA being taken from somebody when they were arrested for a different offense, we were able to solve one of the worst rape cases we’ve ever had,” Dudley said. “So I’m very supportive of increasing the number of crimes, and therefore the number of people, whose DNA we do retrieve.”

Dudley also supports the proposition because it would increase penalties for crimes like repeat shoplifting. She pointed out that if thieves stay under a certain amount of property value stolen, they don’t get arrested, “and they can do it day after day after day.”

“That needs to be stopped, and I think this is a good way to stop it,” Dudley said.

As is often the case with ballot measures, Proposition 20 lumps together these two changes that Dudley supports with another piece that is not directly related: restricting access to parole. While Dudley didn’t comment directly on whether or not she supports this part of the proposition, she did express dissatisfaction with the fact that these distinct issues were placed onto the same ballot measure.

“I do wish they were separate, and I would consider each of them separately,” Dudley said.

Curtis Child, legislative director at Disability Rights California, said his organization opposes Proposition 20. Disability Rights California is the nonprofit agency that recently brought a class-action lawsuit against the county. The lawsuit represented hundreds of incarcerated people at the Santa Barbara County Jail and sought to address what Disability Rights California called “dangerous and unconstitutional conditions at the jail.” A settlement was announced on July 17, 2020. 

Child said that the organization takes issue with the measure’s proposal to increase certain penalties and restrict parole for certain offenses. 

“Persons of color … are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, and that intersects quite significantly with persons with disabilities,” Child said. “So to the extent that [the proposition] would incarcerate additional individuals, we think that … it would continue that disproportionate effect on persons of color and persons with disabilities.”

He continued that the proposed limitations on parole access would hinder the opportunity for individuals to get mental health, behavioral health, and substance abuse treatment.

“They’re going to be held longer and not be able to access important community-based services,” Child said.

Similar to Dudley, Child said Disability Rights California believes the issue of DNA collection should have been considered separately from the issues of longer sentences and restricted parole opportunities.

“We don’t have any particular position on the DNA side, but it does, I think, attempt to taint the other provisions in the initiative,” Child said.

Both Dudley and Disability Rights California support Proposition 25—a referendum on the state’s bail reform law that passed in 2018—because it would take the financial ability to post bail out of the equation.

“I think it makes the system more fair,” Dudley said. “Whenever people of low income are being discriminated against just because they have low income, in my mind that’s un-American.”

Child concurred with the district attorney’s assessment.

“If an individual has no income or very low income, they’re left to stand in pretrial in jail for extended periods of time,” he said. “Not only are they held longer in jail, but there’s significant costs of keeping them in jail that we think can be better redirected into treatment programs outside of the jails.”

Some chapters of the NAACP oppose the proposition, as does the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs. They say that the cash bail system would be replaced by a more discriminatory system of risk assessment that could lead to increased racial profiling.

“Prop. 25 uses computer algorithms to determine the fate of people accused of a crime,” Joe Coto, former Assembly member and chair of the Latino Caucus, states on “These algorithms have been proven to lead to more biased outcomes from Latinos and other people of color.”

Child argued that the new risk assessment system would be just one tool that judges use to make their determination, and is not the sole determinant of someone’s release.

“From our perspective, it’s important that it be understood that the courts make the determination on this, and not algorithms,” he said. “But to the extent that you use these tools—they’re evidence-based tools and have been proven to be making accurate assessments—there are flaws in those. We have the opportunity to improve and enhance those tools.” 

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