I became a victim of crime when my brother was shot and killed. I became a repeat victim of crime when my younger brother also was murdered by someone with a gun. Many of my neighbors can tell stories like mine. In South Central LA, as in other poor communities of color, crime and violence come knocking, invited or not. What sets me apart is that I was blessed to receive help to recover from my loss and trauma. Confronting my grief transformed me from a crime victim into a crime survivor. It also made me determined to see others get the same support. That’s why I tell everyone I can to vote No on Proposition 20 on election day.
For longer than I have been alive, our government’s response to crime and violence has been to arrest someone and put them in jail or prison. That’s why America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with more than 2.2 million people in custody. A judge sentenced the person who killed my little brother to more prison time than three people could serve in a natural life. But, frankly, that didn’t make me feel any better. The very next day, my heart was still hurting.
Although that individual may not see freedom again, living where I do I know lots of people spend time in prison only to come out some time later with no support, no guidance and no hope—only a felony record that makes it nearly impossible to find a good paying job. It is irrational to believe that investing in a system that offers little opportunities for rehabilitation and returns people to society with huge barriers will make our communities safer. I’ve witnessed the impact of this failed approach on my community firsthand.
This situation—victims without healing and returning people without hope—began to change about 10 years ago, when California first started looking at ways to help crime victims recover from their trauma and to invest in breaking cycles of crime and violence. The process accelerated after voters’ approved Proposition 47 in 2014 and Proposition 57 in 2016. By changing some low-level crimes from potential felonies to misdemeanors, Proposition 47 reduced the number of people going to prison and freed up money for things like victims services, drug and mental health treatment and programs for at-risk children. Proposition 57 continued along that path by creating incentives, including earlier release, that encourage people in prison to pursue rehabilitation and programming.
Thanks to these and other common sense reforms, California’s prison population dropped from nearly 182,000 people in 2010 to fewer than 100,000 today. The savings from this reduction made it possible to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in healing and prevention, especially for vulnerable communities—including more than $63 million and counting for programs in Los Angeles County alone.
Proposition 20, which I call the Prison Spending Scam, would destroy this progress. By sending up to 10,000 more people to prison every year, it would starve community-based services of resources they need to heal victims and support successful re-entry.
If Proposition 20 passes, one of the most promising developments of the past decade, the establishment of 14 Trauma Recovery Centers (TRCs) throughout the state, could be at risk. Research shows that poor people, young people, and people of color are more likely than others to experience crime and violence. Yet they are also the least served by traditional support. TRCs were designed specifically for these hard-to-reach groups: Most are located in vulnerable communities and have staff from, or deeply familiar with, the area. They also offer more than therapy. For example, they can help participants access government support, like victims services, and provide assistance to those still interacting with prosecutors and other justice system personnel.
California needs more TRCs. Not more prisons. But the funders of Proposition 20—some of the state’s largest law enforcement associations—don’t get it. They want only one thing: to protect their power and influence.
My neighbors and I don’t want more people in prison. We want healing. We want prevention. Crime survivors want hope. The way we are going to get that hope—and hold on to it—is by voting. So please be sure you are registered. And on November 3, exercise your right: Vote No on Proposition 20.
LaNaisha Edwards is Los Angeles chapter coordinator for Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.