Wandering Eye: Analysis of California's Proposition 47, the crooked criminal-justice system, and more

The passage of California's Proposition 47 in Tuesday's elections means that people there suspected of drug and theft crimes that involve less than $950 will face misdemeanor rather than felony charges, and they won't get arrested, but instead be issued citations to appear in court to answer the charges. FiveThirtyEight's Hayley Munguia has a cool analysis about it, not only citing official predictions of its effects—the freeing up of 10,000 to 30,000 jail beds per year, saving $400 to $700 million annually—but surveying what happened in other states that already instituted sentencing reform, and concluding that they "have largely been successful." Also on FiveThirtyEight, Ben Casselman predicts the measure will open up the job market to many who otherwise would be virtually unemployable due to their criminal histories. The downside is that the measure's drug-law reforms mean those caught possessing date-rape drugs are likely to receive slaps on the wrist rather than serious penalties, as The Federalist points out in an outraged column by Sean Davis. Nonetheless, as the data continues to come in, clarifying the ups and downs of various ways of tweaking crime penalties with an eye to reducing prison populations and boosting job-worthiness, expect more states to follow suit. (Van Smith)


The Atlantic has a provocative take on the murder and violent crime statistics that currently plague communities of color. The problem, argues Heather Ann Thompson, is that African-Americans are too often incarcerated. So the incarceration rate drives up violent crime, not the other way 'round, because . . . well, obviously because criminal-justice policies—especially the War on Drugs—are frankly racist. "Such concentrated levels of imprisonment have torn at the social fabric of inner city neighborhoods in ways that even people who live there find hard to comprehend, let alone outsiders. As the research of criminologist Todd Clear makes clear, extraordinary levels of incarceration create the conditions for extraordinary levels of violence. But even mass incarceration does not, in itself, explain the particularly brutal nature of the violence that erupts today in, for example, the south side of Chicago. To explain that, we must look again carefully and critically at our nation's criminal justice system." Worth a read, agree or not. (Edward Ericson Jr.)


This week, Washington, D.C.'s The Dismemberment Plan reissued its 2001 album "Change" through Partisan Records. It's the first time it's been out on vinyl, which is a nice enough excuse to put this noodly indie-rock record back into the world and in a way, it sounds much more like "indie rock" in 2014 than "indie rock" in 2001, thanks to the Plan's odd fusion of punk with '80s cheese, smooth jazz, electronica, and hip-hop. Nowadays, that kind of open-eared aesthetic is pretty common, but back then it was a little baffling. "Change" also has an interesting connection to Baltimore beyond being a record by the Plan, who played here quite a bit in the mid-1990s to early 2000s. The final song, 'Ellen and Ben,' is in part about Baltimore's Ben Valis, who started organizing shows at age 13 back in 1994 in his parents' basement in Hamilton, eventually founded short-lived but very important punk space the Small Intestine (where the Dismemberment Plan often played in the mid-'90s), and played in a few bands, most notably, Stars of the Dogon. Back in the 2003 Big Music Issue of City Paper, Tom Breihan, currently of Stereogum, profiled Valis in a piece titled "Youth Gone Mild: Punk-Rock Promoting Machine Ben Valis Contemplates Life After Baltimore," which you should read right now. Here's a great quote from the article from Travis Morrison of Dismemberment Plan about Valis: "[The Small Intestine] was [Valis'] vision, and he could whip up astonishing levels of excitement and energy from people to execute it. I mean, his divorced mother and father were working at the club. You know someone is a good leader when he gets his divorced parents to sweep floors and sell sodas at a punk art space." (Brandon Soderberg)

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