Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Is Meg Whitman’s Criminal Justice Platform a Joke?

with 6 comments

Triple bunks at the California State Prison, Los Angeles, in 2006 (courtesy CDCR)

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?

Written by sara

June 9, 2010 at 1:38 pm

6 Responses

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  1. First off- your addressing Nutmeg as Governor…she hasnt won the election yet, only the primary as the Republican Candidate.

    Second, look who has been advising her…Gray Davis, former CA Governor who totally catered to the CCPOA.

    This woman has literally bought her place in this election! The former eBay CEO has spent more than $81 million so far – $71 million from her personal fortune.

    There is something not quite right about her wanting to be a Governor so bad, that she is willing to drop this kind of money while ignoring one of California’s major & pressing issue= the prison system.

    Just think of the good she could have done with this money if she were TRULY concerned with California’s issues…she could just about close the budget gap!

    We have no one to really vote for that will seriously address the issues on the table…Jerry Brown?? One good thing about moonbeam, he was against the death penalty last time he played Governor….Im just disgusted with California and the voters..!!! Thanks Sara- great post!!


    June 9, 2010 at 3:29 pm

  2. Sara — How does Jerry Brown stack up? After all, he is partially to blame for the current pickle we’re in, no? Great post — I sent it to my Republican parents.


    June 9, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    • Jess- You are right- Jerry Brown oversaw the switch to determinate sentencing and subsequent lengthening of sentences, extension of parole supervision terms, and the very beginnings of the prison construction boom (although Deukmejian, Pete Wilson, and Gray Davis really took the tough-on-crime ball and ran with it).

      I can’t find a clear statement of his proposals on his website (just lists his past achievements) so it’s hard to gauge — I’ll try to look into it for an equal-time post. However, I have to believe he’d be better than Whitman if only because 1) he at least knows what the problems are, and how the system works, which is not something I can remotely say about Whitman who hasn’t even voted in 28 years; and 2) I know he knows Joan Petersilia and I bet she’d give him some good advice 🙂

      Maybe this will be his chance to redeem himself??


      June 9, 2010 at 9:10 pm

  3. I’m a regular reader. I really enjoyed the ranty tone of this post. However, you may have made me a bit stupider because I actually followed the link to the Meg 2010 website.
    There was a picture of a white picket fence, a cute baby, and an out-of-context tidbit about paroled sex offenders.
    yucky yucky


    June 11, 2010 at 1:42 pm

  4. […] These are hardly drastic proposals; in fact, the net savings is only some $30 million a year, and a reduction in incarceration of about 4300 inmates, less than 10% of the total prison population.  In fact, that might be the biggest hurdle in getting them enacted; the paltry savings don’t justify the political risks inherently involved in tangling with this subject.  After all, nobody ever got elected on a platform of putting fewer people in prison.  Perhaps nowhere is this better demonstrated than by the campaign of Republican guberantorial candidate Meg Whitman in California; given that state’s budgetary crisis, which makes Ohio’s look like an overdrawn check, her proposals for prison reform — basically, to continue doing what has gotten the state to the position of having no place to put 40,000 inmates — borders on the hallucinogenic. […]

  5. […] worth, I voiced some opinions about Meg Whitman’s excuse for a criminal justice platform here at the blog, and in a Bee op-ed, earlier this year. Jerry Brown may not be ideal either, but I at least feel […]

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