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Proposition 25


Matthew Donovan

If you haven’t figured it out by now, propositions in California are intentionally designed to confuse people. It’s one of the side effects of living in a super liberal state, we have to be tricked into thinking we are doing something good to actually do something bad. For instance, did you vote to ban plastic bags so you can get charged ten cents a bag? Yeah you did. I guess there are worse things like voting to end cash bail to actually have it replaced by a far worse system. That is our analysis at least if you are lazy and don’t want to keep on reading.

A lot of people get really excited about the ending cash bail part without knowing the heavy strings attached. In our carceral state, poor people are the only ones who end up in jail until trial because they can’t pay for cash bail. Cash bail puts people in an odd predicament of being “innocent until proven guilty” but still remain punished in the sense they are in jail until trial. Despite the allure of ending cash bail, Prop 25 proposes to replace it with a system that has the potential to be far more racially and socioeconomically discriminatory. Prop 25 is a bait-and-switch. As the ACLU explains, this proposition would increase the carceral-institutional power of judges and prosecutors to keep people in jail.

Prop 25 seeks to shift to probation departments the crucial task of processing risk assessments, which is the determination of who should and should not be released before trial. These probation officers would heavily rely on racially and socioeconomically biased algorithms. This technology alone is projected to cost hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars per year.

The true test of a progressive in 2020 is not only one’s economic politics, but also whether one stands against the carceral state. Navigating these issues is difficult in the age of surveillance capitalism when companies intentionally prey upon the public’s lack of understanding the role of complex automated algorithms. Many people with good intentions have the impulse to vote for ending cash bail without understanding the built-in biases of algorithms and the likelihood that push more Black and Brown people into the carceral state. The Democratic party, which has long been dedicated to upholding the prerogatives of capital and the carceral state, supports Prop 25 - meaning you should vote NO on this one. With that said, we should all probably rewatch Minority Report because the next time we talk about algorithms it’s going to be about automated policing. Eek.