VANGUARD INCARCERATED PRESS: Politics and Justice Don’t Mesh

by Sonja Rhody 

I hate politics! And what I hate more than politics is California politics. As a former resident of Cambria, I know how California used to shine. The Golden State was the innovator of ideas and the incubator of leadership.

The Golden State lead in the aerospace industry, made Hollywood world famous and the Los Angeles Times was the premiere news organization. West Coast rap was born on this state and Silicon Valley attracted more people than it repelled.

That was then (Mike Davis, The City of Quartz, Vintage Books, New York, 1990) As time elapsed, politics got more entrenched in our everyday lives. They seeped into policing, the courts and into the labyrinth of prisons. As a result, public safety doesn’t make sense anymore.

California has become a state that values the penal system more than the university system. (At one point the prison budget eclipsed higher learning.) We swiftly went from 12 prisons to 33 in less than two decades. (Joshua Page, The Toughest Beat, 2009) To fill all those empty beds, we tweaked the penal code, locking up hordes of Three-Strikers; some for simply being addicted to illegal substances. Imagine people serving more time for peripheral charges than for the primary offense. Like paying more for junk fees than the original purchase. Imagine sentencing a diaper thief for longer than someone who has committed murder.

That’s California! Then there’s the people suffering life without parole sentences (LWOP). They are a permanent population to keep those beds full. Yet they are just as redeemable as any other person who has committed the average murder, only these folks are prohibited from any type of review. No other country in the western hemisphere does that.

Amsterdam doesn’t even have LWOP, and they have much better outcomes across the board. Of course, the death-by-incarceration camp likes to generalize that “these are the worst of the worst.” But these so-called “super predators” are our misguided and traumatized young adults, most under the legal age to drink when arrested. Yet somehow court officers are predicting — for their entire young lives — that these kids are irredeemable!

That’s unconscionable; I’m not sure who is worse, the kids or our society. And we do it in the name of revenge. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in a world of vengeance. Sounds like the gang code, not a civilized society. I believe in redemption, in step with every major religion on earth. I don’t want to be ungodly. I believe in rehabilitation, especially for those our society has marginalized, traumatized and trodden down. I also believe in direct healing for people who have been harmed. There’s no healing in retribution.

The California Committee on the Revision of the Penal Code (CRPC) revealed in its 2020 Annual Report that race is a huge factor in who gets LWOP and who doesn’t. Of course, Black and Brown people are the most vulnerable. As for the worst of the worst, the CRPC found that 95 percent of all murder cases could be subjected to the LWOP matrix. Not only did the CRPC question the selection process that results in such skewed racial outcomes, but the state supreme court did the same as recently as October 2023. We should all be asking this.

At its height, California prisons warehoused as many as 171,000 people. That is equivalent to some small countries. Did you feel safer with that many people locked up just over a decade ago? Today, thanks to COVID protocols, the population is currently around 91,000. Do you feel safer? No? I’ll tell you why. Just as with the prison building boom, we now have one of the lowest overall crime rates in decades. However, all the fear-mongering, and corporate media’s daily sensationalism on a loop makes us all feel unsafe. The news doesn’t put these isolated incidents in context.

So, at $106,000 per incarcerated person, and with a looming $68 billion budget deficit, the fear-mongers want the Legislature to return to the failed “tough-on-crime, mass incarceration mode. And the Legislature is listening. Last year they added to the Three-Strikes law for the first time in almost twenty-one years! If you want to feel safer, its time to be practical, not political, because politics and Justice don’t mesh.

Sonja Rhody has lived the peaks and valleys of life. Having been at the end of her rope at one point, and finding a source a encouragement from people inside, she knows the value of healing and redemption. Sonja is passionate in advancing the basic truth that every human being has intrinsic worth and should be allowed — even encouraged — to grow and be the best version of themselves. 

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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