By Alex Jimenez
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – As of Tuesday night, and into Wednesday, voting shows San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin will likely be removed from office, but polling indicates voters continue to express strong support for reform, according to the San Francisco Examiner.
Since he took office in 2020, Boudin promised to reform the criminal justice system through ending mass incarceration, ending cash bail , and expanding mental health services, noted the Examiner.
And while his defeat might be interpreted as an indictment against criminal justice reform, the polls conducted by the Examiner suggest a more complicated truth.
Indeed, Boudin has a 66 percent disapproval rating and the general consensus among voters is they feel less safe under Boudin, but reform is still a priority among voters. “They may not like Boudin, but they also don’t like the prison industrial complex,” writes the Examiner’s Gil Duran.
Eighty-five percent of voters expressed support for expanding mental health treatment and to stop using jail as a mental health facility, said Duran, adding 68 percent said they supported sending low level criminals to diversion programs and, in a highly contested subject, only 31 percent opposed eliminating the cash bail system.
“Focusing resources on serious and violent felonies and stopping the prosecution of misdemeanors” garnered support from 49 percent of likely voters, the polling showed, said the Examiner.
Within the context of this election, these findings might seem contradictory, but Californians in general have strongly supported reform in the past, noted the Examiner, citing a 2021 David Binder Research Poll that found 61 percent of California voters favored treatment and rehabilitation in lieu of imprisonment, despite the belief that crime was getting worse.
The recall campaign ran on a narrative of the failings of liberal policies in enforcing crime, but this messaging is unlikely to survive statewide as California’s main reformers, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta, will have no problem securing victories in November, said the Examiner.
A broad base of support and the ability to project themselves as both crime reformers and crime fighters is the difference.
“It’s very simple: There is a balance, and the two things are not incompatible,” said Ace Smith to the Examiner, a political advisor to both Newsom and Bonta. He added, “You can keep the public safe while also pursuing criminal justice reform.”
While Smith acknowledged Boudin’s failure to connect with voters, he also attributed Boudin’s misfortunes to the fact that DAs are under attack nationwide.
“I think there was an unfortunate narrative that was created by the right in this country: DAs are causing crime,” said Smith.
On the other hand, according to Smith, this also spells trouble for former conservative Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s bid for attorney general—she’s a big critic of Boudin and ran on a “tough on crime” model despite her own county’s issues with crime.
“If you happen to be a DA and those chickens come home to roost, guess what? They’re on your roof,” he said.
Duran emphasizes that Boudin’s fate should not be conflated with overall attitudes with criminal justice reform in general.
“Voters want reform, but they also want effectiveness. They want more mental health services and rehabilitation for those in need, and they also want to feel safe on the streets” said Duran.
“There is no appetite for ‘lock ‘em up, throw away the key’ law enforcement in California anymore,” said Smith. At the same time, he said: “People are looking around and thinking the system is not really effective.”
Regarding the city’s most pressing issues, the Examiner also asked voters about policies they support to solve various matters.
Among the responses, 68 percent said they supported a zero tolerance approach in keeping illegal drug use off the streets, and 84 percent said they supported “requiring” fentanyl users to get treatment “if they present a risk to themselves and others.”
The city’s voters have homelessness as their main concern, according to 64 percent who deemed it as a “extremely serious challenge, while 58 percent of respondents deemed car break ins and shoplifting as “extremely serious.”
In contrast to drug overdose, 46 percent of voters found it to be an extremely serious challenge, and Durant notes that is because the city’s drug problems are confined to specific areas of downtown, while car break ins and shoplifting are occurring citywide.
“His (Boudin’s) defeat will end any illusion that he was the cause of San Francisco’s problems. The question now: Can the leaders of this city and this state actualize their popular ideas and deliver results? Or have tent slums, shattered glass and sidewalk ODs become the incurable ailments of a Democratic society in decline?” queried Duran.