Is Meg Whitman’s Criminal Justice Platform a Joke?
Well, the California gubernatorial primary results are in and Meg Whitman’s officially the GOP nominee. So I thought I’d point out that Whitman may have the worst criminal justice platform of any political candidate I’ve ever seen, in any election at any level. OK, maybe that’s hyperbolic, but seriously: Her platform is terrible. And I say this not because I disagree with the policy proposals — actually, it’s hard to find any realistic policy proposals amidst the rhetoric. Rather, I say this because from just about any policy perspective, Whitman’s platform is so removed from any plausible account of reality, and so callously dismissive of the needs of California inmates (who, after all, are Californians too), and so opportunistically manipulative of the rhetoric of “victims’ rights,” as to be insulting.
Let’s review: California’s 33 prisons are so overcrowded that, by one estimate, an inmate was dying needlessly every 6-7 days a few years ago, and the former head of corrections for the state of Texas — hardly a place that “coddles criminals” — has described California’s prison conditions as “truly appalling.”
Meanwhile, Whitman offers a halfhearted remix of “tough-on-crime” talking points from the past 25 years that has literally nothing to do with the unique and urgent problems facing California’s prison system. She says she’ll “oppose early release” — never mind that most of California’s inmates are serving determinate sentences and can’t be released early anyway. She says she’ll “build new prisons” — never mind that she also claims she’ll restore California to fiscal responsibility and building prisons generally requires floating bonds. She says the Three Strikes law has been “instrumental in keeping violent criminals out of our communities” — never mind that 3,700 prisoners are serving life terms under this law for a third strike that was neither violent nor serious. Even the Republican nominee for AG, Los Angeles DA Steve Cooley, thinks the law is overinclusive (although he has certainly prosecuted three strikes cases vigorously in cases of violent offenders). She says nothing about the various federal injunctions California’s prisons are under, instead blaming nameless “politicians in Sacramento.”
Say what you will about Gov. Schwarzenegger but at least he has demonstrated an understanding of the urgency of California’s prison crisis. Gov. Whitman’s platform is a non-responsive joke. It could be an Onion article. Throughout the country, politicians from across the political spectrum have finally come to the realization that lock ’em up rhetoric has yielded some terrible policy results and yet Whitman is still talking like it’s 1980. Whitman will try to sell her managerial skills, honed as CEO of eBay, as her main qualification for office. But surely you don’t get to be a successful CEO by proposing to implement expensive and counterproductive solutions to a bunch of problems your company doesn’t actually have, while utterly ignoring the potentially devastating problems your company actually does have. Or is that what they’re teaching in MBA programs these days?