Thursday, May 8, 2008

Clergy, teachers, civil rights groups oppose prison measure

SACRAMENTO — Civil rights groups, teachers and clergy — many from the Bay Area — plan to form a coalition today to oppose a pending ballot initiative that they say would divert funds needed for schools and health care into misguided attacks on crime.

The "Safe Neighborhoods Act: Stop Gang, Gun, and Street Crime" aims to bolster law enforcement funds and toughen gang-related crime penalties.

Republican lawmakers and other authors of the proposed initiative submitted petitions bearing voters' signatures to election officials April 25 in hopes of qualifying it for the November statewide ballot.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said in a statement Tuesday that the "so-called Safe Neighborhoods Act will not lead to safer streets, less crime or a reduction in drug dealing in our community."

"The initiative doesn't address the core problems or create real solutions," she said. "In light of the current California budget crisis, we cannot afford to irresponsibly spend even more California tax dollars on a failed policy of only funding prisons and criminalizing youth."

Jakada Imani of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights said that the proposal "makes us less safe." Effective public safety results from employment and a strong economy, which is based on a strong school system,'' Imani said.

Opponents include the California NAACP, the California Federation of Teachers, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and California Church AdvertisementIMPACT, the advocacy arm of the California Council of Churches.

Foes of the proposal plan to hold similar news conferences today in Los Angeles and Fresno. Safe Neighborhoods initiative co-author George Runner, a Republican state senator from Lancaster, said in submitting initiative petitions that supporters had "received passionate responses from voters up and down the state for this ballot measure."

"But we are not surprised by their enthusiasm,'' he said. "Our constituents tell us all the time that they are fed up with gangs and the violence and destruction they bring to our neighborhoods." Other supporters include the senator's wife, Assemblywoman Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, and Mike Reynolds, who championed California's crime-penalty toughening "three-strikes" law.

A report by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office on the proposal says it would boost funding for police, sheriffs, district attorneys, jails and probation offices by about $365 million annually.

The initiative also would require a few hundred million dollars for operation of prisons that would house additional inmates imprisoned for longer periods.

The measure would bolster penalties for various crimes, including those related to gang participation and recruitment, intimidation of individuals involved in court proceedings, possession and sale of methamphetamine, vehicle theft and gun possession.

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