A couple of our very thoughtful readers have pitched in with responses to my California Challenge in comments to my second post. In case you haven't rechecked, here's how they would modify my proposal:
"I had some thoughts. I really like some of your ideas — the expert committee that convenes to select members of the commission, rules that go into effect unless the legislature rejects them by supermajority, automatic initiative after five years.
My first reaction was “the legislature will never go for it,” but since I’m forbidden from saying that, I tried to think of something else. How about using an initiative to get the process started? The proposition could say something like this:
Should the state convene a special committee of professional experts to select members of a sentencing commission that would exist under the following circumstances?
rules/guidelines adopted by the commission will be non-severable and will go into effect automatically unless the legislature rejects them by two-thirds vote;
the governor may veto legislative action rejecting any rules/guidelines adopted by the commission;
the legislature may override the veto by three-fourths vote;
members of the commission shall be subject to removal for inattendance and obstruction;
the commission shall propose initial rules/guidelines within ___ years after its formation;
rules/guidelines adopted by the Commission and implemented by the state are subject to review and rejection by the public via referendum five years after implementation;
etc, etc, etc
Of course, you would have to define “obstruction,” and set deadlines for each step in the rejection/veto/override process, and decide how committee membership would be determined and set limits re: what the commission was required to do, empowered to do, and, perhaps, forbidden from doing. But the proposition, itself, need not be a technical document. After all, you're simply deciding whether the state should convene a committee. Does California law prohibit something like this?"
And the response to both of us:
"Actually, something like what you propose was tried by California in the 1940’s. The American Law Institute’s model Youth Corrections Authority Act was enacted almost in its entirety. It was to be composed of experts from well-recognized organizations, and acted much as a sentencing commission. However, it did not establish guidelines for judges; it acted as the sentencing entity itself. The California Youth Authority was used as the model for the California Adult Authority The Youth Authority made considerable progress over thirty years or so. Then it began to deteriorate when a series of public officials found that sentencing was a ripe target for their self-interested politics. Maybe a good riot or two, or busted budget are the only recourse, before things become sensible again.
More seriously, I believe things should be pushed in one or two different directions. One is along the lines you propose. Try to insulate the formulation of sentencing policy from influence by the self-interested politicians. The other would be to structure the sentencing process so that policy makers cannot resort to sentencing double talk, which is an inevitable consequence of amalgamated sentences. Clearly, one size does not fit all. Sentencing is not such a ripe target when the policy choices that are made can be clearly tied to specific objectives and budgetary consequences. I prefer the latter alternative, because there is a place of healthy public input and involvement."
See? Not hard at all. We've started now. Let's hear from more of you.