California governor candidates back criminal justice reforms

April 5, 2017
State Treasurer John Chiang, a candidate for California governor, speaks at a gubernatorial candidates forum, Tuesday, April 4, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. Chiang, along with fellow Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, addressed attendees at a conference held by Crime Survivors For Safety and Justice. In the center is Lenore Anderson, founder and executive director of Crime Survivors For Safety and Justice and at right is Alex Johnson, the managing director.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli).

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Three Democrats running for California governor called Tuesday for criminal justice policies that focus on youth development and support for crime victims over tough-on-crime measures that increase incarceration.

Speaking separately at a Sacramento criminal justice conference, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and state Treasurer John Chiang each portrayed themselves as the strongest champion for liberal public safety reforms.

“I was taking on prison building in 1994 when my voice was one of the few challenging the fact that we were putting more people in prison than any place in the world,” Villaraigosa said. “And I think it’s time for us to invest in people.”

Villaraigosa did, however, vote in favor of building a maximum security prison north of Bakersfield when he was state Assembly speaker in 1999 — a concession to Republicans as part of a budget compromise that was approved nearly unanimously.

Villaraigosa touted initiatives he advanced as Los Angeles’ mayor to focus on supporting young people who are at risk of joining gangs.

The conference was organized by Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a left-leaning advocacy group that lobbies for boosting spending on preventing crime, victims’ services and rehabilitating offenders.

Newsom said he has publicly supported ballot measures to reduce sentences for some crimes, legalize marijuana, require background checks for ammunition sales and eliminate the death penalty.

“Our policies have been dictated through the prism of anger and fear,” Newsom said. “And they’ve been exploited for political advantage.”

Chiang said his family was “struck deeply by crime” after his sister was abducted and killed in 1999.

“My family, we’re Catholic. We believe in redemption. We believe in hope,” Chiang said. “We also believe in being serious on crime. You want people in the right place, but we’re trying to build a better society.”

He said the state should focus on educating children and addressing poverty to prevent crime.

Newsom, Chiang and Villaraigosa are the best-known candidates in a crowded field of contenders looking to replace term-limited Gov. Jerry Brown after the 2018 election.

Former state schools chief Delaine Eastin, a Democrat, and businessman John Cox, a Republican, have also announced plans to run.