Nearly five decades ago, elected officials in California started enacting sentencing laws that rapidly filled the state’s prisons. Only in the last decade did that process start to reverse. Effecting political change is not for people with short attention spans.
Momentum for reform continues and GFC has been pleased to support organizations like Smart Justice leading that charge. Last year we backed SB 136, a bill to reduce sentencing enhancements. This year we support a reform to reduce parole periods. For years we have called for prison closures and were pleased to see Governor Newsom propose one such closure in his January budget. We hope the legislature agrees, though we would count only actual closures, not a schedule for announcing potential closures, as achievement of that goal. We have also called for the reform of expensive insurance (OPEB) subsidies for retired state employees that, just in the case of state prison guards, would save ~$300 million per year and eliminate ~$10 billion of debt while still providing large subsidies to retired prison guards.
Long time GFCers often recall to my embarrassment that when GFC launched nine years ago I thought it would take just 5–10 new legislators to transform the legislature into a representative of the general interest. I was wrong, and as we have written many times in the years since then — and as prison reformers have shown — it also takes persistence over a long period of time and recognition by legislators that supporters of the general interest can be just as dogged as special interests.