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Paul Murre

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What Kind of Society and Criminal Does California Deserve?

Posted: 07/10/2012 6:36 pm

Over the past 30 years, California has built 21 prisons and only one public university. In the past decade, California State University tuition has increased by 191 percent. University of California tuition has increased by 145 percent. And California currently ranks 47th out of 50 in per-pupil spending at our K-12 schools, about $3,000 less than the national average.

Cuts to our education are always at the forefront of California's budget process and routinely sidelined, young people are told there is nothing we can do about our state government's inability to adequately fund our education.

However, these education cuts and tuition increases have occurred simultaneously with our state's uncompromising and ever-increasing financial investment in our criminal justice system and prison industrial complex. In particular, the State of California spends $184 million dollars a year enforcing the death penalty, a price which is expected to rise with the number of death row inmates increasing at an unsustainable rate in our state.

In addition to the death penalty, California's criminal justice system has been fueled by the Three Strikes Law, which states that if a person is convicted of any felony, and has two or more prior strike convictions, he or she must be sentenced to at least 25-years-to-life in state prison. A 2009 report on California's prison system conducted by the California State Auditor indicated that nearly 25 percent of the state's prison population was incarcerated under the Three Strikes Law.

California's financial ruin has manifested through the actions of California's voters, via direct democracy. But in 2012, Californians will have the ability to reform the Three Strikes Law and abolish the death penalty. Voters will have the opportunity to redirect our state's priorities away from incarceration and the prison industrial complex and to instead refocus our attention on investing in our future, in higher education and K-12 schools.

It is fitting that both of these initiatives to reform our criminal justice system will join Governor Brown's Schools and Public Safety Protection Act on the ballot this November. The Governor's initiative calls for increases on income tax for the wealthy in California and a very minor increase to our state sales tax. The revenue generated from the tax will directly benefit our K-12 schools and higher education institutions, softening the blows that our public education system has endured over the past decade. If the revenue initiative is rejected by California voters, the result for the CSU, UC and CCC systems would be catastrophic.

As a student at San Francisco State University, I have seen first hand what happens when education is not a priority for our state government. Class sizes increase, course offerings are slashed, and tuition is increased. The voters in California will have a serious choice to vote for Governor Brown's initiative that will help students keep their heads above water and a choice to stray away from such a deep commitment to a broken criminal justice system.

California's schools and social programs have been starved of funding for years but I believe that now is the time for this to change. The choice to reinvest in education starts with a reassessment of our fundamental values and our priorities in California. The Three Strikes Law will not keep kids in school or drug dealers off of our streets. The death penalty will not keep guns out of our communities and does not make us any safer at night. The key to fighting crime is investing in young people and their ideas for tomorrow. This November we must open the door to reforms in our criminal justice system and evolve on the death penalty. We do not have to do it for moral reasons alone, we should do it to increase our fiscal responsibility.

Robert F. Kennedy once stated that, "Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves." When we raise tuition, when we cut funding for public education, and we spend more each fiscal year on prisons in California than universities and public schools -- we must ask ourselves, what kind of society and criminal does California deserve?

 
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