California Prop 35 (CASE ACT) is a measure that would enact harsher penalties for sex traffickers and broaden the definition of what actions would constitute sex trafficking. Those who would be newly included in this category as well as others already found guilty, would be forced to register as an offender, release much more public information, and potentially face 15 to life in prison.
International sex trafficking distribution
On the outset, tougher policies for sex trafficking seems like a noble idea, as this an especially heinous crime and an epidemic in our country. However, the prop comes with many mal side effects that must be taken into account. First, the prop would cost extra tax dollars in this already suffering economy in order to pay for the multiple new trials, as well as the increase in inmates and longer prison sentences. It also has a very broad and vague view of what constitutes a sex trafficker, making it so that “anyone receiving financial support from consensual prostitution” would be liable for the drastic aforementioned penalties. Finally and most importantly, it would create much harsher penalties in an already broken prison industrial system that has a long and documented history of disproportionately affecting minorities and of using punishment as the principal answer to deeper societal problems. If a stronger stance against sex offenders is wanted in California, it should come in a way that seeks out the source of the violence rather than looking to raise already ineffective and racially uneven incarceration rates as the solution.
Percentage of incarcerated minority groups
In America, African Americans and Latinos are grossly overrepresented at all stages of the penal system, including police searches, initial arrests, trials, convictions, incarcerations, and executions. (Bergman, 1998; Desmond & Ermirbayer, 2000) African Americans and Latinos make up 13.6 and 16.3 percent of the US population respectively (US Census Bureau, 2010), yet they account for 39.4 and 20.6% percent of the prison population (US Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2009). While whites are doing crimes at about the same rate as these minorities and make up 72.4 percent of the population, they only constitute 32.9 percent of US inmates. (Berger, 1998; US Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2009) This disparity is due to a variety of reasons including police racial profiling, racially biased juries, a poor public defendant system, racially charged disparities in laws and sentencing, and “get tough” on crime policies that we are seeing a continuation of in Proposition 35. (Bergman, 1998; Desmond & Emirbayer, 2000)
Comparison of international prison populations
The problem with these “get tough” policies is that it leads our government to imprison more people per incident than any other country which results in an inmate population that is also significantly higher than any other country in the world. In addition, this type of retributive justice works in such a way that, as mentioned earlier, harms non-whites at unjustly and excessively higher rates and fails to address the origin of the problem. Actual sex traffickers are a horrible aspect of our society and sexually based crimes are completely unacceptable in all cases. Yet we must be careful when assuming that merely assigning a worse penalty will decrease the number of offenses, when it actually could just increase the number of relatively harmless underprivileged people behind bars, thus hurting minority communities and avoiding the root of the actual crime. (Desmond & Emirbayer, 2000) A better solution would be to perhaps take a look at our culture of female objectification, violence, and victim blaming that promotes the sexual degradation of women. Before jumping the gun and using more penal methods as a way to eradicate crime, I urge people to research and take a closer look at what harsher punitive measures and the growing prison industrial complex have done for our society in the past and to take that into account when deciding if this is the right choice for our future.
Desmond, Matthew, and Mustafa Emirbayer. Racial Domination, Racial Progress: The Sociology of Race in America. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2010. Print.
Bergman, Carol A. “The Politics of Federal Sentencing on Cocaine” Federal Sentencing Reporter, Vol. 10, No. 4m Crack/Cocaine, Appeal Waivers, Dangerous Offenders. 196-199. University of California Press. 1998.
– Julia Gould