Public Safety and Justice for All

Public Safety and Justice for All

In the Assembly I will fight for violence prevention through social programs, gun control, and stronger police accountability, and for an end to mass incarceration:

  • End cash bail and onerous court fines.
  • Abolish private prisons and private employment of incarcerated people.
  • Social programs for violence prevention with ceasefire mentorship systems, reentry job training programs and violence prevention stipends.
  • Win Medicare for All, along with comprehensive social work and public health programs, for violence prevention through mental health care.
  • Implement an automatic, independent investigation process for police violence cases.
  • Repeal California's "three strikes" law and end mandatory minimum sentencing.

California and the country at large face crises of police violence and mass incarceration. In 2017 alone, California police killed 172 civilians. If our state were a country, its incarceration rate would be among the highest in the world, higher than that of Russia or Iran. The state has begun reforming its criminal justice system, and I will push for further reforms. My approach to criminal justice and public safety rests on two principles: preventing violence by providing people with the means to live safe, healthy lives; and reforming our justice system to rank the needs of people over profit.

I put these principles into practice as an elected leader on the Richmond City Council. In my first term, I assisted in the creation of workplace anti-bullying legislation. I helped establish a municipal identification card for all residents, so that everyone could participate fully in our community regardless of immigration status. This effort was strongly supported by our Chief of Police to improve police-community interaction. I also spearheaded the successful effort to "ban the box" for municipal employment and housing so that people returning from incarceration could settle productively back into our community. Richmond's homicide rate has significantly declined as we have implemented these programs.

Social Programs and Gun Control for Real Violence Prevention

As an Assembly member, I will work to prevent violence through policies that empower individuals and strengthen communities -- not through militarized policing and mass imprisonment.

In Richmond I promoted reintegration programs for formerly incarcerated people into our community, and I will do the same at the state level. Having served their time, returning residents should be able to obtain housing and jobs. I will press for strong statewide social programs for violence prevention, including ceasefire mentorship programs, reentry assistance, job training programs, and violence prevention stipends. I helped lead the design and implementation of these programs in Richmond and I am ready to develop legislation to bring these effective public safety innovations to communities statewide.

Adequate mental health care is an important element in violence prevention. We must recognize that those suffering from chronic mental illness or substance abuse are human beings and deserve dignity, care, and the resources necessary to survive in our increasingly unequal society. I will fight for a single-payer, Medicare for All system to provide excellent mental health care for all California residents, no matter their ability to pay.

Research shows that community-based psychiatric treatment is more effective and significantly less expensive than in-prison treatment in preventing crime and reducing incarceration rates for people with mental disorders. Community treatment options in California are vastly underfunded. Our state can and should provide adequate funding for a community-based continuum of mental health care. This should include permanent supportive housing, job training and subsidized employment, effective substance abuse treatment, educational opportunities, and access to highly-skilled treatment professionals. Medicare for All would make available these kinds of care regardless of wealth, thus contributing to violence prevention.

We need to dramatically reduce gun violence. I strongly support serious gun control measures including ammunition sale and clip size limits, a ban on assault weapons, and a statewide voluntary gun buyback program. The state should tax firearm industry profits as it does alcohol and tobacco sales to discourage purchase and to fund gun control and public safety programs. The safety of our communities should come before corporate profits.

Stronger Public Accountability for Police

When we improve relations between communities and their police forces, our communities become safer. I support creation of local police accountability mechanisms. Guidelines for peace officers' use of force need to be tightened, as proposed in Assembly Bill 931, and the California Attorney General should fully enforce existing state laws on peace officers' use of force. I support community policing initiatives, like those we developed in Richmond. Police training, staffing, and procedures need to be directed to violence prevention and helping community members avail themselves of social services rather than suffering incarceration.

I will fight to repeal the Peace Officer's Bill of Rights, which shields police officers' disciplinary records from the public and makes it extremely difficult to fire officers for misconduct. I support Senate Bill 1421 as part of this process. I support creating an automatic, independent investigation process for cases of police violence, like the process I helped establish in Richmond.

I will fight for the end of civil asset forfeiture for private police gain. Under civil forfeiture laws, the police may permanently seize and profit from the property of anyone suspected of criminal activity, without ever charging the person with a crime. We must end this practice which unjustly places police profits over people.

End Mass Incarceration

We need to dismantle the system of mass incarceration that has destroyed lives and devastated communities. Our criminal justice system should be re-oriented toward rehabilitation, away from punishment and incarceration.

Far too many Californians have been imprisoned for possession of illegal drugs. This has driven up our incarceration rate and destroyed people's chances for productive lives. I support drug use decriminalization. Drug possession and use should be responded to as health problems, not criminal acts. Rehabilitation, counseling, expansion of life opportunities, and a health maintenance approach are more humane than criminalization, and will reduce costs and improve outcomes.

One way to vastly reduce our prison population and the pressure on our court system is to decriminalize drug possession. I want to work with other legislators to study the feasibility of and best practices for moving in this direction.

From my long experience as a children's mental health professional and based on review of scientific research about cognitive development, I passionately believe that we must end the prosecution of children as adults. Incarceration of children leads to further harm, not rehabilitation. We need to break the school-to-prison pipeline, care for our children, and thereby make their lives more productive and our communities safer.

I will fight to repeal California's "three strikes" law and to end mandatory minimum sentencing. Sentences should be determined on a case-by-case basis, attending to the individual circumstances of a crime and the particular characteristics of an offender. Ending mandatory minimum sentences will allow us to avoid needlessly cruel prison sentences and reduce inhumane overcrowding in our prisons.

I will also work in Sacramento to abolish the death penalty. The death penalty is a cruel and inhumane punishment. It is hugely expensive to house death penalty convicts during long appeals processes, it results in the killing of the innocent and mentally ill, and it is disproportionately applied to people of color. Moreover, the death penalty has not been shown to deter crime. I support measures that reduce violence, not those that simply reproduce it.

Our current cash bail system is an affront to justice. Wealthy suspects don't have to suffer pre-trial detention, while poorer suspects spend long periods of time in jail. Sometimes people spend months in jail awaiting trial, and innocent suspects sometimes plead guilty just to temporarily gain freedom. I will work to end cash bail in California and nationwide. We should determine pre-trial detention according to the suspect's flight risk and threat, not how much money they can pay for freedom. I oppose attempts to replace the cash bail system with more prosecutorial discretion. Release should be the rule unless the prosecutor proves that the person is a flight risk or a significant danger to the community.

Everyone deserves the right to a strong legal defense, regardless of ability to pay. California's public defense programs have been drastically underfunded and overburdened for decades. Some public defenders' offices face lawsuits from the ACLU based on their insufficient ability to meet Constitutional requirements for fair and adequate defense. We must provide stronger state support for public defenders, fully supporting them to make sure our criminal justice system works for the many, not just the few.

Our criminal justice system should serve the needs of people, not the profits of corporations. When society considers someone's imprisonment necessary, it should be responsible for carrying out the duties of custodianship, care, and rehabilitation. Private prisons create corporate incentives to keep people in jail and to minimize assistance and services to them. We must abolish private prisons.

Private corporations should no longer employ prisoners. Private prison labor is exploitative and creates large profits for business while paying prisoners minimal wages, often giving them little in the way of useful training, and unfairly undercuts the wages of non-incarcerated workers. The state should provide prisoners who want to work with training and good, fairly-paid jobs that can prepare them for successful re-entry into their communities.

Jovanka Beckles

I am running for the California State Assembly to transform our state government to work for people, not profit. Join me and our movement to build a California that works for the many, not the few.