JLUSA leader Emile DeWeaver speaks out on Gavin Newsom’s prison reform in California

October 19, 2023

Emile DeWeaver (Leading with Conviction™ 2022) writes:

“Californians have been demanding a course correction away from mass incarceration for over a decade, and earlier this year, Governor Gavin Newsom announced his ‘California Model’ for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), an ill-defined set of proposals sold as a supposed step in that direction. His plan includes demolishing San Quentin State Prison’s death row and building a ‘state-of-the-art’ building that he says will provide stronger rehabilitation opportunities for the limited number of incarcerated people allowed to access it.

“While Newsom says his nebulous model represents progress, it is much closer to what philosophers would call a near enemy of progress.

Newsom’s definition of mass incarceration is fundamentally inadequate.

“Far enemies are obvious—hate is the far enemy of love, for example. Near enemies are more insidious because they resemble what we desire while actually undermining our goal. Pity is the near enemy of compassion; sympathy is the near enemy of empathy. People have long used this idea to understand emotions, but it translates well into the sphere of social transformation. Cancel culture is a near enemy of accountability, while identity politics is the near enemy of centering impacted people.

Emile DeWeaver with then Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom in San Quentin Prison, 2016.

Emile DeWeaver with then Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom in San Quentin Prison, 2016. (Photo: Emile DeWeaver)

“The California Model stands as the near enemy of progress because Newsom’s definition of mass incarceration is fundamentally inadequate. He focuses on the things this system does but fails to grapple with what the system is.
“What does mass incarceration do? It dehumanizes and punishes when it could restore. It deepens our dependence on an ineffective public safety model that often makes us less safe. In Newsom’s mind, shifting mass incarceration to be more rehabilitative may, therefore, represent progress. But given what mass incarceration is, he’s wrong.
“Mass incarceration has many components. It is a prison industry that receives revenue based on the incarcerated population. It is a fundamentally racist political institution that uses this revenue to push through tough-on-crime legislation that keeps prisons full. It is an incentive structure in which the capital received translates into job security for guards, meaning their livelihoods become tied to the perpetuation of a harmful system. Mass incarceration is a national crisis of our collective priorities and values, which disincentives and devalues public services and innovations that would actually provide safety and reduce our reliance on punitive responses. Each of these components represents a deeply ingrained cultural problem, which Newsom’s so-called California Model does nothing to address.
“Culture defines the possibilities of the seeds we plant. When the soil is poisoned, even good seeds grow poisonous outcomes. Newsom’s ‘plan’ is all the more distressing because he is planting bad seeds in bad soil. By the time they mature into toxic flowers, Californians will have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on his misguided proposals—if not more.”
Read the full op-ed at TheAppeal.org.
(Photo above from San Francisco Chronicle)

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