Previously, we took a cursory look at what the top candidates for CA governor in 2018 think about the criminal justice system. To summarize, it was rather underwhelming. John Chiang, current Treasurer, was the wildcard of the group with little accessible information available on his views. Recently, this blogger had the privilege of attending a lecture on the UC Berkeley campus in which Chiang shared his various policy positions. It is immediate clear to observers that Chiang really, really knows what he’s talking about. Unlike other desultory politicians who tend to harp on superficial buzzwords to generate awe, Chiang comes off as informed, sharp, and acutely aware of the barriers to prison reform in CA.
Chiang started his conversation going in depth about what has driven CA to become the 6th largest economy in the world. But despite all of our economic might, 1 in 5 Californians live in poverty. What good is this status if cyclical entrenched poverty cripples communities and severely restricts upward mobility? When prompted to speak on his vision for CA in 2018 if elected, he responded by mentioning the pressing need to address income inequality. He was off to a good start and didn’t slow down.
More impressive was his knowledge about the Correctional climate in CA. Mass incarceration is profoundly expensive, but invests very little in prisoners. It’s an extraordinarily poor return on our investment when 7/10 prisoners return to prison walls within three years of release. In order to get more bang for our taxpayer buck, Chiang emphasized the ‘R’ in CDCR (Rehabilitation). He dived into why incarceration is so expensive and correctly identified healthcare for aging prison populations as a huge factor. The fiscal ramifications of having to provide adequate healthcare for prisoners in their late 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s drove him to advocate for reevaluating sentence structures. We are locking up and forgetting about these souls, but our pockets aren’t forgetting about them. As these individuals get older and reconsider their lives, how long should they have to pay for actions as a young adults? Chiang elegantly zeroed in on the pragmatic approaches for second chances.
He concluded by pointing out that correctional reform is small fish, for if we really wanted to reform our prison system we’d be investing more in earlier resources like K-12 education so there wouldn’t be such a massive need for human caging in CA. Targeting the front end and disrupting the prison pipeline is the real key to prison reform, not hemming around the edges by pursuing low-hanging reform fruit. He connected his prison reform arguments to his earlier positions that until income inequality is remedied, prison reform can never be fully actualized. CA would be lucky to have Chiang steering the ship in 2018 and beyond. #Chiang2018