Juleyka Lantigua-Williams: What specifically have you done in the Prop. 57 effort?
Scott Budnick: I worked with some other advocates for juveniles in drafting the wording for the juvenile piece of the measure, which eliminates direct file by prosecutors and gives judges, who have much more information about who the child is, the decision as to whether to send them to the adult system or keep them in juvenile court. I was also very involved in partnership with the governor’s office in crafting the two other pieces of Prop. 57, which is parole consideration for nonviolent offenders and rehabilitation credits for others in prison.
Lantigua-Williams: The governor decided to introduce adult provisions into what was originally a bill about juvenile offenders.
Budnick: If you think about it, it’s not juvenile versus adult. The juveniles who we’re talking about in a direct-file piece are going to adult prison, going to adult court, and getting adult sentences. They’re only juvenile in age. In California, they’re not treated as juveniles. Once they’re direct filed, in every part of their contact with the system they become an adult.
Lantigua-Williams: California has been leading the charge in terms of trying to reduce incarcerations. Do you see Prop. 57 as an overall play toward that?
Budnick: I don’t think it’s an ambitious plan to decarcerate. The governor obviously has a population cap that judges have given him for the system, and the governor realizes that the people who are leaving prison under our current mechanism have no incentive to rehabilitate whatsoever. They can just sit in prison. Imagine if you had a nine-year determinate sentence: You could sit and shoot up heroin and continue gang politics, and you’re still getting released in nine years. There’s nothing that you need to do before then. You could get drunk every night in prison, party, have fun, and there is nothing that forces you to change, that forces you to go to education programs, forces you to get a job, forces you to learn a trade, forces you to go to therapy. None of that exists right now. The people who are actually getting out of prison under our current system have no incentive to change whatsoever.
That’s why Prop. 57 includes the rehabilitation credits for educational achievements, GEDs, college, jobs, career technical education. You incentivize someone with the ability to get out a few months earlier, a year earlier. If they’ve completed all these things, all the evidence points to reduced recidivism. What makes a safer community is the amount of people who decide to change. Decide to not use drugs anymore. Decide to not involve themselves in gangs.
Every single person in prison who makes that decision comes out and makes us a safer community. If we can triple that number, quadruple that number, go 10 times that number of people—who choose to change and come into the community, are now college students, are now union workers or working at businesses, are not gang members, are not drug dealers, and are not drug addicts—that’s real public safety. This is one of the smartest measures that has ever been put forward. It’s really, really smart on crime.