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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Law Enforcement and Civil Rights Groups Divided Over California Ballot Measures

LOS ANGELES — On Tuesday, California voters will consider three ballot measures that propose wide-ranging changes to the state’s criminal justice system but also pit law enforcement officials against civil rights advocates.

One initiative, Proposition 5, would increase financing for drug rehabilitation programs and reduce penalties for some drug- and addiction-related crimes. Another, Proposition 6, would increase financing for law enforcement and increase penalties for drug- and gang-related offenses. And a third, Proposition 9, would expand victims’ roles in criminal and parole proceedings, prioritize restitution payments to victims and reduce the frequency of parole hearings for offenders.

By financing alternatives for drug treatment, Proposition 5 would supplement a 2000 measure, Proposition 36, which mandated drug courts and rehabilitation for most people convicted of drug possession. The initiative would expand the kinds of offenders eligible for drug treatment to include those who committed non-drug-related crimes because of addiction. For example, someone convicted of burglary could claim he was trying to feed his drug habit and so would be eligible for treatment instead of jail.

Proposition 5 would dismiss certain felony drug violations and seal the records of some drug offenders after probation. The initiative would also shorten parole for most drug offenses, reduce penalties for marijuana possession and limit judges’ discretion to imprison certain parole and probation violators.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance Network, a nonprofit organization that works to ease drug penalties and has contributed $400,000 to push Proposition 5, said the measure would help reduce overcrowding in California prisons, which are facing a federal takeover. [Mark Godsey]

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