Essay: Repealing Prop. 47 is a misguided battle cry. It won’t make California safer

Photograph by Wesley Tingey

By Lanaisha Edwards for CalMatters

Fourteen years ago, my younger brother, Vinnie Edwards, was fatally shot as he left football practice at his college. Six years later, another brother, Vaughn Edwards, was also murdered. He was shot in his car in a random attack while leaving a Juneteenth celebration with his pregnant girlfriend and daughter.

Vinnie was 24 when he died; Vaughn was 28.

Their deaths were the sorts of violent endings that are tragically common in poor, under-serviced neighborhoods across the greater Los Angeles area. When I was growing up, I lost count of the number of funerals I attended.

I know the pain of victimhood as intimately as can be known, and the craving for justice – and even revenge – after a loved one has been murdered. But I also know – as do so many crime victims – that revenge doesn’t make communities safer, and that simply locking up more impoverished young men and women is a recipe for failure.

I shudder when politicians, district attorneys and law enforcement officials respond to rising rates of shoplifting and other petty theft by reviving the “lock-‘em-up-and-throw-away-the-key” mentality of the 1980s and ‘90s – as many are now doing and by demanding a repeal of Proposition 47. After all, it wasn’t long ago that misguided policies such as Three Strikes and You’re Out led to the incarceration of so many people that California’s prisons were at one point operating at 200% of their capacity.

The resulting conditions were so appalling that eventually federal courts stepped in and mandated California significantly reduce its prison population to avoid a perpetuation of “cruel and unusual” conditions barred by the Constitution.

Ultimately, if we want to break the cycles of senseless violence and crime that took two of my brothers and led so many Californians to live in fear today, we have to do the hard work of investing in violence intervention programs, in Trauma Recovery Centers, in job training and education for youth, in mental health and substance abuse treatment services, and in the broader ecosystem of community well-being.

Prop. 47, which reclassified some of the lowest-level, nonviolent crimes as misdemeanors, reduced the amount of time people convicted of such crimes would spend behind bars, and reinvested the hundreds of millions of dollars in savings by setting up TRCs and other services. Despite the naysayers’ critiques, in reality the result has been a resounding success, lowering recidivism and providing a range of supportive services to those who desperately need it.

Approached in a calm, rational manner, the headline-making wave of shoplifting and other property crimes would suggest the need for more recovery centers, more substance abuse treatment facilities and more mental health services, not less. Instead, the political battle cry of the moment is to repeal Prop. 47 and, in doing so, dam up the flow of funds for supportive services that head off crime before it gets out of hand. We could end up reverting back to supposedly “tough” policies that failed to tackle the root causes of criminal activity.

I have three young sons and I worry about them constantly. Like millions of Californians, I simply want my children to be safe. I know that, with certain politicians and media narratives stoking public fears around crime, it’s easy to blame reforms for the woes of the moment.

But that blame game won’t make me or my sons safer – nor will it protect our communities.

LaNaisha Edwards is the California member engagement associate for Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, the nation’s largest network of survivors of crime.

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1 Comment on "Essay: Repealing Prop. 47 is a misguided battle cry. It won’t make California safer"

  1. You’re entitled to your opinion. But I’ve observed an explosion of low-level of crime in California ever since Prop 47s passage. Decriminalization of hard drugs, expansion of drug diversion, increasing the monetary threshold for theft crimes has only made this state more unstable and unsafe than it has ever been before.

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