NO ON 25: Good Intentions and the Road to Hell.




By guest blogger James Nelson.

I was born and raised in Watts, the epicenter of police brutality in Los Angeles. My life took a drastic turn in 1986, when at the age of 19, I was arrested and caged inside Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles County facing charges I knew nothing about. I thought a speedy trial would expose the wrong that was being done to me, and prove my innocence. But the system failed me and I was convicted to 27 years to life. After spending 29 years behind prison walls, I was found suitable for release by the Prison Board, while still maintaining my innocence. My release actually took me by surprise.

I am 54 years old now, and speak from decades of experience being caged as an innocent man and fighting the unjust system that sentenced me. This experience has taught me that treating the symptoms and not the virus of incarceration will only keep it spreading at the expense of Black lives. Money bail is a symptom of California’s massive criminal legal system, and Proposition 25 only entrenches the very system that allowed it to exist in the first place.

I wish I had been granted bail in 1986. Fighting my case while incarcerated pretrial put me at a severe disadvantage. From the stigma of appearing in court in county jail clothing instead of civilian clothing, to the lack of access to my family and support network, pretrial incarceration ensured my conviction. If I had been able to prove my innocence from a position of freedom, I may not have spent most of my adult life behind bars.

Pretrial incarceration coerces people to take plea deals simply because they want to go home. Spending one day in jail can cost someone their housing, employment and even their life. COVID-19 makes these conditions even more deadly. Rather than sit in violent and medically dangerous county jails for months and even years, accused people accept bogus deals which have lifelong consequences that make accessing housing, services and employment even more difficult.

Proposition 25, which upholds Senate Bill 10 (SB10), will make it EASIER to incarcerate people like me pretrial, while also implementing a mandate that money bail be replaced with crime prediction algorithms. Algorithms that assign risk scores to determine who is freed and who is jailed based on factors like age, prior arrest record, and even zip code. These algorithms have been proven to be biased based on age, race and class. This means that tens of thousands of formerly incarcerated and convicted people like me, predominately Black, brown and poor, will have no way out of jail if they do not accept a plea deal.

Proposition 25 also expands the power of judges and funding for law enforcement. Judges will have unlimited discretion to incarcerate someone without a conviction, with no obligation to consider low risk scores. Probation departments across the state will receive millions of dollars from the state to expand the surveillance of legally innocent people. People like me, who have suffered at the hands of bias judges and probation officers, understand that empowering them will increase our incarceration.

The author, James Nelson.

I urge all Californians to vote “NO” on Proposition 25 and repeal the discriminatory SB10. Proposition 25 will be catastrophic for Black and brown folks who already make up most of prison and jail systems. I especially urge formerly incarcerated and convicted people to vote No on Proposition 25. We understand more than anyone that this system was designed to keep us caged and know what’s at stake. We cannot be willing to sell out to law enforcement for the illusion of freedom. Preserving the presumption of innocence is what we must fight for and we cannot leave anyone behind.

I do the work to transform systems of injustice for those left inside, for those silenced by incarceration. I think about a young man who was murdered by the Sheriff’s Department in county jail, simply for roaming the halls. I think about his family, and the millions of families that pretrial incarceration has torn apart. What our communities deserve is real pretrial reform. Proposition 25 is not it.

About Admin

"Admin" is just editors Vern Nelson, Greg Diamond, or Ryan Cantor sharing something that they mostly didn't write themselves, but think you should see. Before December 2010, "Admin" may have been former blog owner Art Pedroza.