Prop. 5 May Be Last Chance to Reform Prisons

Press Release October 21, 2008
Media Contact

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli at (213) 291-4190 or Tommy McDonald at

The ills of California’s prison system have been diagnosed in one expert report after another, but the prescriptions for change have been ignored. Now, with Proposition 5, voters have the opportunity to enact a range of reforms recommended by experts that would reduce overcrowding and improve rehabilitation.

“The prison lobby has dictated criminal justice policies for decades. Look at the results: prisons are stuffed to twice their capacity and the recidivism rate is twice the national average,” said Dan Macallair, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. “Prop. 5 takes a different approach to reduce recidivism — one recommended by criminal justice policy experts from around the country.”

Voters will decide on Prop. 5 just two weeks before a trial begins in a lawsuit that could result in an outright takeover of California’s prison system by a panel of three federal judges. But, as with every prior effort to reform California’s prison system, law enforcement groups and the prison guards’ union are fighting tooth and nail to prevent reform. The prison guards recently poured $1 million into the No on 5 campaign.

“After 25 years in San Quentin, I know how broken our corrections system is. Prop. 5 is the breath of fresh air this system needs,” said Jeanne Woodford, former director of the California Department of Corrections under Gov. Schwarzenegger. “I am surprised to see a law enforcement organization that is responsible for public safety opposing an initiative that will not only reduce cost but will also dramatically improve public safety.”

“We have let law enforcement drive our response to addiction for long enough — and we are all, quite literally, paying the price,” said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy campaign manager of Yes on 5. “Now it’s finally time to listen to policy experts. By reducing addiction, we’ll prevent crime and cut costs to the state.”

Prop. 5 is endorsed the League of Women Voters of California, the California Nurses Association, California Federation of Teachers and the California Society of Addiction Medicine, the California State Conference of the NAACP and the National Council of la Raza, among many others.

The nonpartisan legislative analyst calculates Prop. 5 will reduce incarceration costs by $1 billion annually and save taxpayers $2.5 billion in reduced prison-construction costs. This doesn’t include savings related to reduced crime, fewer social services costs (e.g. emergency room visits, welfare), and increased individual productivity.

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A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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