Friday, January 26, 2007

How Do You Spell "Halleluiah"?

Slashing the Gordian Knot in CA. The well-respected and accomplished Little Hoover Commission there has b--chslapped state policymakers with a wonderful report calling them out on their failure after failure after failure to pay attention to recommendations for reform of their crippling corrections sentencing system. "The State knows what the answers are," they say. "The status quo is not acceptable," they say. They call for replacement of the normal state debacl . . . approach here with something similar to the federal Base Closure and Realignment Committee. Not exactly the national professional group, the "Cincinnatus Committee" that I recommended a while back, but worlds better than depending on a traditional sentencing commission to get it done. AND, they come out in favor of Judge Frankel's original vision of a commission, with the power to make sentencing rules that would have to be explicitly overturned by the Gov or by a supermajority (two-thirds) of the state legislature. AND, they make explicit the importance of the data-reporting and evaluation role of that commission, our famous "sentencing information systems."

This is bold stuff, and these folks cannot receive too much praise for what they're doing. What's important here isn't just the proposal itself. The Little Hoover Commission has broadened the scope of the debate now. It's set a new and farther anchor in the "other side" of the prisons policy argument, within which less bold but now more far-reaching options can be considered without fear of being seen as the "extreme." Even if the Gov and the legislature once again live down to their past courage, the commission has changed what states from now on will have to consider when they are forced by dwindling resources, like CA, to address their own corrections sentencing policy. This alone will make their work and contribution enormously and historically important to this nation. And, should they actually pull this off . . . .

Everyone's focused on Cunningham right now, and that case may add a couple of cannons to the Commission's armaments. But this is potentially much bigger. This country, for good or bad, has historically been pulled by the gusts out of California. It's facing the most humungous version of the fiscal disaster facing many of the states right now. A workable framework for handling that financial hellhole would reverberate across every one of them. Success would set that framework for the nation. And the Little Hoover folks would cement its legacy not just for California but for all of us.

Great work. And good luck.

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