California voters reject attempt to make criminal sentences even tougher

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Voters in the state didn't buy into Donald Trump's fearmongering.

California voters on Tuesday rejected Proposition 20, which would have toughened penalties for a number of crimes and cut down on the number of prisoners who are eligible for early parole.

The law would have had widespread repercussions. A wide swath of crimes, including shoplifting, drug possession, and forgery, would have triggered stricter penalties.

The measure, supported by police and prosecutors in the state, would also have expanded the ability of law enforcement to collect the DNA of people charged with misdemeanors.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected the measure, 62.3% to 37.7%, with 83% of precincts reporting.

Criminal justice advocates cheered the outcome.

"The defeat of Proposition 20 is a significant milestone in California's ongoing effort to make its criminal justice system more effective," Jay Jordan, the executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice, told the Los Angeles Times. "The rejection of mass incarceration by voters is a major advance for the national criminal justice reform movement."

In the 1990s, California adopted a raft of harsh mandatory minimum sentencing laws that led to an explosion in the state's prison population. Between 1985 and 2006, California's prison population more than tripled, from 50,000 inmates to 173,000 inmates.

American prisons have continued to struggle with the long-term effects of overcrowding, even as public opinion on crime has softened over the past 30 years. This year, the coronavirus has ripped through U.S. jails and prisons, a crisis greatly compounded by overcrowding.

Californians may finally be reckoning with their overwhelmed prison system. Last month, a state appellate court ordered that nearly 1,500 inmates at San Quentin State Prison must either be released or relocated. Voters' rejection of Prop 20 on Tuesday signals their openness to further reforms.

Donald Trump loves to claim that blue states like California have devolved into crime-ridden anarchy. Trump has called San Francisco a "veritable hellhole," and has railed against the state's refusal to work with federal immigration officials. On Tuesday, California's voters rejected Trump's paranoid thinking in favor of a more just state.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.