TIME policy

Websites Plan ‘Internet Countdown’ to Defend Net Neutrality

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Protesters hold a rally to support "net neutrality" on May 15, 2014 at the FCC in Washington, DC. Karen Bleier—AFP/Getty Images

FCC will vote on new net neutrality rules Feb. 26

The organization behind a widespread online protest last fall over net neutrality is trying to stage another one as the Federal Communications Commission vote on new net neutrality rules draws near.

On Monday, Fight for the Future, an Internet advocacy group, began organizing an “Internet Countdown” to tick down the hours until Feb. 26, when the FCC is scheduled to vote on net neutrality, the principle that all data should be treated equally online. Internet advocates worry that the FCC may enshrine within its new rules the right for Internet service providers to charge a premium for “fast lanes” that would allow some websites to load more quickly than others. Internet advocates argue that boosting sites for money would stifle innovation, as start-ups would load more slowly than established brands.

Fight for the Future is pushing for a reclassification of broadband companies such as Comcast and Verizon as telecommunications services, which would let the FCC force those businesses to adhere to the tenets of net neutrality. The organization is trying to convince popular websites to embed its countdown timer on their websites to raise awareness about the upcoming FCC vote.

Fight for the Future has had success with this tactic in the past. A planned “Internet Slowdown” in September, in which websites either throttled their own traffic or posted an image of the “spinning wheel of death” to symbolizing throttling, was adopted by big online names such as Mozilla, Reddit and Foursquare. So far, the new Internet Countdown doesn’t seem quite as widespread, with the liberal blog The Daily Kos being the biggest organization currently participating. Fight for the Future and other organizers say they will announce other participants as they come on board.

Even as the FCC vote draws near, the Republican-led Congress is mulling legislation that might protect net neutrality while also removing the FCC from enforcement.

TIME policy

Google Spent Even More on Lobbying Than Comcast in 2014

Google Reports Quarterly Earnings
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Outspent the cable giant currently seeking approval for a merger

Google’s influence is increasingly being felt in Washington, according to a corporate spending watchdog.

The search giant spent $16.83 million on federal lobbying in 2014, according to public records analyzed by public interest nonprofit Consumer Watchdog — just a little bit more than the $16.8 million spend racked up by noted big spender Comcast last year, as it sought to win approval for a planned $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable.

Google is also spending considerably more than its direct competitors, such as Microsoft, which spent $8.33 million on lobbying efforts, and Facebook, which spent $9.34 million. In fact Google’s spend was the largest of 15 tech and communications companies that Consumer Watchdog tracks, including Verizon, Time Warner Cable and IBM.

As Google continues to expand to new business ventures, such as its just-announced contribution to a $1 billion investment into SpaceX, the company must wrangle with an ever-growing list of laws and policies. The Washington Post pulled back the curtain a bit on how Google spends its lobbying dollars earlier this year, revealing that the tech giant regularly funds research at think tanks and invests in advocacy groups on both sides of the political aisle.

Current political issues that would likely be of high interest to Google include the revamping of net neutrality laws and President Obama’s new initiative to ensure that cities are able to build their own municipal broadband networks, which could lead to faster Internet for customers.

TIME Davos

What Obama and Davos Plutocrats Have in Common

A logo sits on a glass panel inside the venue of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 19, 2015.
A logo sits on a glass panel inside the venue of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 19, 2015. Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg—Getty Images

Global wealth has changed dramatically. It's time our tax code should, too

If President Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night and the chatter at the World Economic Forum in Davos, which opened Wednesday, are any indication, inequality will be the hot economic topic for another year running.

The president’s proposals for changes to parts of the US tax code that mainly benefit the wealthy revives the conversation Warren Buffett started a few years back with his op-ed about why his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does. (Answer: She works for wages, whereas the Oracle of Omaha earns money on money itself, in the form of capital gains, interest income, etc.) At the WEF in Davos, where world leaders meet every year to hash out the big geopolitical and economic issues of the day, one of the most talked about reports is Oxfam’s new brief looking at how the 85 richest people on the planet have the same amount of wealth as the poorest 50%, a huge jump from last year when it took a full 388 plutocrats to equal that wealth. Some 20% of the billionaires come from the world of finance and insurance, a group whose wealth increased by 11 % in the last twelve months. And $550 million of it was spent lobbying policy makers in places like Washington, something Oxfam believes has been a major barrier to tax and intellectual property reform that creates a fairer economic system.

Plenty of those plutocrats are here on the Magic Mountain, and some are undoubtedly checking in with their tax planners. I expect that we’ll hear lots more in Davos this week about how to restructure tax codes for the 21st century, mainly because the nature of wealth and how it gets created has changed so dramatically. Today, more than ever since the Gilded Age, money begets money; income earned from wages has been stagnating for years, or decades even, depending on which type of workers you tally. Meanwhile, changes in the tax code and corporate compensation over the last 30 years or so has concentrated more financial resources at the very top of the socio-economic food chain. Indeed, financial assets (stocks, bonds, and such) are the dominant form of wealth for the top 0.1 %, which actually creates a snowball effect of inequality.

As French economist Thomas Piketty explained so thoroughly in his now famous 693 page tome on wealth inequality, Capital in the 21st Century, the returns on financial assets greatly out-weigh those from income earned the old-fashioned way—by working for wages. Even when you consider the salaries of the modern economy’s super-managers—the CEOs, bankers, accountants, agents, consultants and lawyers that groups like Occupy Wall Street railed against—it’s important to remember that somewhere between 30% to 80 % of their incomes are awarded not in cash but in stock options and stock equity. This type of income is taxed at a much lower rate than what most of us pay on the money we receive in our regular checks. That means the composition of super-manager pay has the booster-rocket effect of lowering taxes (and thus governments’ ability to provide support for the poor and middle classes) while increasing inequality in the economy as a whole.

MORE How 7 ideas in the State of the Union would affect you

It’s a cycle that spins faster and faster as executives paid in stock make short-term business decisions that might undermine long-term growth in their companies even as they raise the value of their own options in the near. It’s no accident that corporate stock buybacks, which tend to bolster share prices but not underlying growth (you know, the kind that creates jobs for you and me), and corporate pay have gone up concurrently over the last four decades. There are any number of studies that illustrate the intersection between the markets, our tax system, and wealth gap; one of the most striking was done by economists James Galbraith and Travis Hale, who showed how during the late 1990s, changing income inequality tracked the go-go NASDAQ stock index to a remarkable degree.

As Piketty’s work shows, in the absence of some change-making event, like a war or a Great Depression that destroys financial asset value, the rich really do get richer–a lot richer–while the rest of us become relatively worse off. One of the few levers that governments have to combat this trend is the tax code. While Piketty argues for a global wealth tax, something that will likely never happen, President Obama’s stab at capital gains taxes and trust taxes is probably just the opening round in a tax debate that will go on throughout this year, and into the 2016 presidential race.

I say, bring it on—given that the nature of wealth has changed, it’s high time the tax system should too.

TIME 2016 Election

The 9 Times Hillary Clinton Has Taken a Stand Since 2013

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Hillary Clinton Hillary Clinton gazes pensively into the distance at Iowa Senator Tom Harken'a annual Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa on September 14, 2014. Brooks Kraft—Corbis for TIME

Like other presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton had an opinion on just about everything in 2008. How to reform the U.S. health care system? Check. What to do about climate change? Check. Even minor issues like how to lower the price of gas required her to come up with a plan.

But when she became Secretary of State, Clinton followed tradition and kept her opinions to herself, especially on domestic policy. And since leaving Foggy Bottom in 2013, she’s mostly avoided specifics.

She says she’s in favor of protecting the environment, for example, but has yet to stake out her position on fracking or the Keystone XL pipeline. She says she’s against eliminating net neutrality, but has yet to say what, exactly, the government ought to do to protect it. And while she’s talked a big game about U.S. military engagement abroad, it’s unclear how her positions on, say, Ukraine or Iraq would differ from those of President Obama.

That ambiguity is understandable. She doesn’t hold public office. She’s not officially on the ballot. And committing to a position publicly limits her future options, politically. But given how many times she hasn’t taken a position on the issue of the day, it’s worth noting the handful of times she has.

Here’s a look at the nine most substantive policy positions Clinton has staked out since stepping down as Secretary of State.

1) The U.S. needs serious immigration reform. When President Obama announced his controversial executive order in November shielding up to five million undocumented immigrants, Clinton tweeted her approval within minutes, and then followed up with a statement calling for immediate, bipartisan and comprehensive immigration that would “focus finite resources on deporting felons rather than families.”

2) The U.S. should have armed the rebels in Syria. In an interview with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg in August, Clinton blamed the rise of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, on the U.S. not doing enough to support moderate rebels when the Syrian civil war first broke out. “The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad — there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle — the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” she said. That said, Clinton’s ideas on how to rout ISIS now appear to be more or less the same as Obama’s.

3) Gay people should be allowed to marry. In March 2013, Clinton formally announced in her support for gay marriage, marking a major reversal of the position she’d held for decades. Her rivals criticized her for jumping on the bandwagon only after the issue of gay marriage had become widely acceptable, but she defended herself as a “thinking human” who is allowed to “evolve” on issues.

4) Americans shouldn’t torture people. At a human rights awards dinner in December, Clinton made her first public comments about torture since the Senate released its controversial report on the issue earlier this month. She said unequivocally that she is against illegal renditions and brutal interrogation methods. “The U.S. should never condone or practice torture anywhere in the world,” she said.

5) The federal government should raise the minimum wage. In a speech at a campaign event for Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley in October, Clinton told the crowd not to “let anyone tell you that raising the minimum wage will kill jobs – they always say that.” She then went on to defend raising the federal minimum wage. As a senator, Clinton repeatedly proposed legislation that would automatically increase the federal minimum wage anytime members of Congress saw their own pay increase.

6) Negotiating with Iran is a good idea, so long as the U.S. gets a good deal. Much to the chagrin of many in the pro-Israel crowd, Clinton has not only expressed support for the administration’s negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program, she has taken credit for initiating the secret talks back in 2012. In the past year, she has lightly tempered that unequivocal support by cautioning that the U.S. should be careful about what it concedes to, repeating that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”

7) The U.S. shouldn’t trust Putin. At a speaking event this year, Clinton called the Russian President an arrogant bully. As Secretary of State, she said she was in favor of the Obama administration’s “reset” policy with Russia, but her opinion of the policy appears to have cooled. “I think that what may have happened, is that both the United States and Europe were really hoping for the best from Putin as a returned president,” she told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in an interview in July. “And I think we’ve been quickly, unfortunately, disabused of those hopes.” While those seem like fightin’ words, policy analysts point out that it’s less clear how Clinton’s distrust of Putin would translate to a change in actual U.S. policy—much less potential military engagement—in Ukraine.

8) All American kids should get free, high-quality pre-K. Anyone remotely familiar with Clinton’s resume won’t find this to be much of a shocker, but early-childhood education is one of the issues she’s been most outspoken about in the last two years. She’s advocated for everything from universal pre-K and free nurse home-visits for at-risk mothers, to expanding existing programs, like Head Start and paid family leave.

9) #Blacklivesmatter. Clinton took a shellacking this fall for failing to say much one way or an another on the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and about the Eric Garner case in New York. At an awards ceremony in December, she broke her silence—kinda. “Yes, black lives matter,” she said, but then failed to elaborate. She has yet to say whether she’s in favor of broad sentencing reform, body cameras on police, or how she might limit what military equipment is available to police forces.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 9

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Foreign policy isn’t public relations. The value of releasing the torture report outweighs the risks.

By Daniel Larison in the American Conservative

2. Innovation in design — not technology — might be the key to disrupting industries.

By Todd Olson in Medium

3. The simple notion of community potlucks is working to rebuild the torn fabric of Ferguson.

By Shereen Marisol Meraji at National Public Radio

4. A new poverty alleviation strategy is built on feedback and direction from the actual beneficiaries — putting people at the center of policy.

By Molly M. Scott in RealClearPolicy

5. Women are uniquely positioned to understand the impact of climate change around the world. They must have a seat at the table to set global policy.

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in the Aspen Journal of Ideas

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Australia

Australia Approves Temporary Protection Visas for Refugees

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Sri Lankan asylum seekers sent back by Australia queue to enter the magistrate's court in the southern port district of Galle on July 8, 2014. Lakruwan Wanniarachchi —AFP/Getty Images

The controversial visas were first introduced in Australia during John Howard's administration in 1999

Australia lawmakers approved a bill Thursday that will allow asylum seekers to live and work in the country using temporary protection visas.

Refugees who are granted the temporary visa can stay in Australia for three to five years but are denied permanent residency, the BBC reports.

Currently, asylum seekers arriving to Australia by boat are held in offshore detention centers, where conditions have been criticized by human rights groups. Under the new legislation, the number of refugees allowed to work in Australia will rise by 7,500 from 13,750 by 2018.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott says the move completes the country’s asylum seeker policy.

“We always said that three things were necessary to stop the boats — offshore processing, turning boats around and temporary protection visas,” he said. “Last night the final piece of policy was put in place.”

Refugees using a temporary visa can live and work in the country but the government has the power to deport them back to their home country if it deems conditions there have improved.

Paul Power, chief executive of the Refugee Council of Australia, criticized the legislation as a “shattering blow for asylum seekers who face the grave risk of being returned to danger,” reports the BBC.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison made several concessions to get the bill passed, including that children will no longer be detained on Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, for offshore processing.

The bill became law from Friday.

[BBC]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 10

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Food touches everything in our lives. Yet we have no national food policy. That must change.

By Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, Ricardo Salvador and Olivier De Schutter in the Washington Post

2. Electronic Medical Records should focus more on patient care and less on meeting the needs of insurance companies and billing departments.

By Scott Hensley at National Public Radio

3. Anonymous social media often hosts vicious harassment targeting women and minorities. A new plan to monitor threats online is working for a solution.

By Barbara Herman in International Business Times

4. “You can’t wear a Band-Aid for long, particularly when the wound keeps bleeding.” Two years after Hurricane Sandy, New York is far from stormproof.

By Lilah Raptopoulos in the Guardian

5. China and the U.S. should take aim at a new “grand bargain” to head off tensions and mistrust in their relationship.

By Wei Zongyou in the Diplomat

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME

The Soda Industry’s Promises Mean Nothing

Production Inside A Coca-Cola Amatil Ltd. Plant
Empty Coca-Cola Classic cans move along a conveyor to be filled and sealed at a Coca-Cola Amatil Ltd. production facility in Melbourne, Australia, on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. Bloomberg—Getty Images

Marion Nestle is professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University.

Agreeing to decrease soda consumption by 20 percent is easy to do when demand is already falling rapidly

The recent pledge by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the Dr Pepper Snapple Group to reduce calories that Americans consumd from their products by 20 percent by 2025 elicited torrents of praise from the Global Clinton Initiative, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the national press.

The real news: soda companies are at last admitting their role in obesity.

Nevertheless, the announcement caused many of us in the public health advocacy community to roll our eyes. Once again, soda companies are making promises that are likely to be fulfilled anyway, whether the companies take any action or not.

Americans have gotten the word. Sodas in anything but small amounts are not good for health.

Although Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association have funded studies that invariably find sodas innocent of health effects, the vast preponderance of research sponsored by the government or foundations clearly demonstrates otherwise.

Think of sodas as candy in liquid form. They contain astonishing amounts of sugars. A 12-ounce soda contains 10 (!) teaspoons of sugar and provides about 150 calories.

It should surprise no one that adults and children who habitually consume sugary drinks are far more likely to take in fewer nutrients, to weigh more, and to exhibit metabolic abnormalities compared to those who abstain or drink only small amounts.

And, contrary to expectation, diet sodas don’t seem to help. A widely publicized recent study suggests that artificially sweetened drinks affect intestinal bacteria in ways, as yet undetermined, that lead to metabolic abnormalities–glucose intolerance and insulin resistance. This research is largely animal-based, preliminary, and requires confirmation. But one thing about diet drinks is clear: they do not do much good in preventing obesity.

People who drink diet sodas tend to be more obese than those who do not. The use of artificial sweeteners in the United States has gone up precisely in parallel with the rise in prevalence of obesity. Is this a cause or an effect? We don’t know yet.

While scientists are trying to sort all this out, large segments of the public have gotten the message: stay away from sodas of any kind.

Since the late 1990s, U.S. per capita consumption of soft drinks has dropped by about 20 percent. If current trends continue, the soda industry should have no trouble meeting its promise of another 20 percent reduction by 2025.

Americans want healthier drinks and are switching to bottled water, sports drinks, and vitamin-fortified drinks—although not nearly at replacement levels. The soda industry has to find ways to sell more products. It also has to find ways to head off regulation. Hence: the promises.

To deal with sales shortfalls, the leading soft-drink brands, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, have expanded their marketing overseas. They have committed to invest billions to make and promote their products in Latin America as well as in the hugely populated countries of Asia and Africa where soda consumption is still very low.

From a public health standpoint, people everywhere would be healthier—perhaps a lot healthier—drinking less soda.

In California, the cities of San Francisco and Berkeley have placed soda tax initiatives on the November ballot. The American Beverage Association, the trade association for Coke, Pepsi, and the like, is funding anti-tax campaigns that involve not only television advertising and home mailings, but also creation of ostensibly grassroots (“astroturf”) community organizations, petition campaigns, and, when all else fails, lawsuits to make sure the initiative fails. These efforts are carbon copies of the tactics used to defeat New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s portion size cap proposal.

If the soda industry really wants to help prevent obesity, it needs to change its current practices. It should stop fighting tax and size initiatives, stop opposing warning labels on sugary drinks, stop lobbying against restrictions on sodas in schools, stop using sports and music celebrities to sell products to children, stop targeting marketing to African-American and Hispanic young people, and stop funding research studies designed to give sodas a clean bill of health.

And it should stop complaining, as PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi did last week, that nobody is giving the industry credit for all the good it is doing.

If the government really were serious about obesity prevention, it could ban vending machines from schools, set limits on the size of soft drinks sold at school events, define the amount of sugars allowable in foods and beverages, and, most of all, stop soda marketing aimed at children of any age.

Because neither the soda industry nor the government is likely to do any of this, public health advocates still have plenty of work to do.

Marion Nestle is professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. She is currently working on a book titled Soda! From Food Advocacy to Public Health.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 17

1. Islamic State’s sexual violence is a war crime and U.S. leaders should call it out, seek ways to track it, and hold the terrorists to account. Instead, policymakers are ignoring it.

By Aki Peritz and Tara Maller in Foreign Policy

2. When the rich get richer, states get poorer. Income inequality is eating away at state tax revenue.

By Gabriel J. Petek at Standard and Poor’s Ratings Service

3. Does big philanthropy have too much power over policy?

By Gara LaMarche in Democracy

4. An innovative program is connecting high-performing low-income students with scholarship dollars and guiding them through the daunting financial aid process.

By David Leonhardt in the Upshot

5. Can a major redesign transform Union Station into the commercial and cultural heart of Washington?

By Steven Pearlstein in the Washington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME policy

5 Ways California Can Imprison Fewer People

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Frank van den Bergh—Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Lessons from Texas, Illinois, Washington state and more

In 2009, overcrowding in California’s prisons had gotten so bad—140,000 inmates crammed into prisons built to house just 80,000—that federal judges ruled it violated prisoners’ civil rights. Under order to reduce the state’s prison population, Governor Brown introduced realignment in 2011, a plan to send nonviolent inmates to county jails and probation departments rather than prison.

This year, a federal court gave California two more years to reduce the inmate population of its 33 prisons to 112,100. Along with shifting responsibilities to the county, the state is looking at other measures to move people out of prison, including good-behavior credits to shorten sentences and quicker parole for people deemed suitable for release.

And this fall, Californians will vote on Proposition 47, which proposes to reduce felonies for crimes like petty theft to misdemeanors and thereby keep greater numbers of low-risk, nonviolent offenders out of prison.

What has worked in other places to address prison overcrowding without compromising public safety? How can we address recidivism and the fact that 60 percent of former prisoners commit a new crime within three years of release?

In advance of the Zócalo/California Endowment event “Why Are There So Many People in Prison?”, we asked criminal justice experts the following question: What state has lessons to teach California about reducing its prison population?

1) Texas and its investment in health solutions

I have to hand it to the Lone Star State; they do indeed do everything big. That includes reductions in its incarceration rates and costs, as well as in its crime rates, providing lessons for other states—including California.

In California we like to think we’re first in everything, but Texas began addressing over-incarceration in 2003. They passed laws that strengthened and encouraged alternatives to incarceration for certain nonviolent offenses, and increased the use of assessment tools to identify who received which forms of accountability based on their individual risks and needs.

As a result, not only did incarceration rates go down, but so too did serious and violent crime: a 12.8 percent drop since 2003. These successes allowed lawmakers to close a prison and scrap plans to build 17,000 more prison beds (saving taxpayers $2 billion).

One key lesson to learn from Texas’ success is their investment in health solutions for the health problems that many incarcerated people share: substance abuse disorders and mental illness. The state allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to residential and non-residential treatment options for people convicted of nonviolent offenses, and on enhancing in-prison treatment programs.

This included expanding drug courts to deal specifically with drug offenses—and the accountability steps needed to end cycles of addiction and crime. By 2009, the recidivism rate for people who participated in the Texas Specialized Drug Court was nearly eight times lower than defendants who had not.

Substance abuse disorders and mental illness are pervasive in California jails and prisons, which is part of the reason for our stubbornly high recidivism rate of 60 percent. The good news is that we are making strides, including increasing investments in community-based health approaches.

If we do that, California will not just have lessons to share but also healthier, safer communities.

Lenore Anderson is Executive Director of Californians for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit working to reducing over-incarceration with common sense solutions that improve public safety and reduce taxpayer costs.

2) 45 other states where parole board decisions are not reviewed by the governor

To help achieve sustained reductions in incarceration, California should end the practice of allowing governors to review parole board decisions. In doing so, it would join 45 states that allow parole boards to independently determine when a prisoner is ready for community supervision.

One in four California prisoners are “lifers” sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. The national rate is only 7 percent. California gained this dubious distinction because of its sentencing and parole policies, not its crime rates.

In 1988, Proposition 89 authorized the governor to reverse parole decisions in cases involving murder, and to require additional review for non-murder convictions. Parole rates plummeted as governors overturned most of the parole board’s release grants, thus warehousing hundreds of prisoners who had been deemed low-risk and ready for community supervision.

Under Governor Brown, there has been a sharp change. The parole board has found lifers eligible for parole in 15 percent of its hearings—a low figure that nonetheless exceeds the 4 percent average from the previous three decades. And Gov. Brown has approved over 80 percent of these decisions.

But why should the governor reverse even 20 percent of a governor-appointed board’s decisions? And why should the state allow any future governor to revert to virtually ending parole for lifers?

These prisoners have often committed serious violent crimes. But decades-long sentences are excessive and expensive. A Stanford University study found that former lifers with murder convictions had a “minuscule” recidivism rate—less than 1 percent. That’s much lower than the nearly 50 percent re-imprisonment rate of all California prisoners. Yet it’s achieved at the cost of $47,000 per prisoner annually. Those funds should be redirected to prevent the violence that leads to calls for severe punishment.

Twenty years ago, Texas amended its constitution to end gubernatorial parole review. It’s well past time for California to depoliticize parole.

Nazgol Ghandnoosh, Ph.D., is a research analyst at The Sentencing Project, a national non-profit organization engaged in research and advocacy on criminal justice issues. Her recent publications include “Fewer Prisoners, Less Crime: A Tale of Three States” and “Race and Punishment: Racial Perceptions of Crime and Support for Punitive Policies.”

3) The state of Washington and its focus on rehabilitation

California’s experiment in Public Safety Realignment is being credited with closing the revolving door that keeps low-level offenders cycling through the state prison system by housing them instead in county jails and providing counties funding and flexibility to provide for these inmates. Currently the state’s 58 counties are doing their own experiments to determine how much of the realignment resources should be devoted to rehabilitative programs. But reducing California’s prison population over the long term will require the state to provide rehabilitative services like education that reduce recidivism and help to turn individuals’ lives around once they return to communities.

California can learn a great deal from the state of Washington, which has implemented a series of reforms focused on rehabilitation—on diverting offenders to treatment and other options and making serving time in prison the last option. The logic for this is clear: Analyses by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy show that cognitive-behavioral programs for adult offenders in prison and community settings can be expected to reduce recidivism rates by 6.3 percent, on average.

RAND’s recent national study on correctional education shows that adult offenders who participated in prison education programs reduced their risk of recidivating by 43 percent and that every $1 invested in these programs resulted in about $4–$5 in savings in re-incarceration costs. Beyond the stark economic benefits is the broader incentive that such rehabilitation is good for society as a whole. As a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences indicated, mass incarceration is associated with negative social and economic outcomes, which make it very difficult for ex-offenders to turn their lives around when they return, disproportionately, to disadvantaged communities.

California took a bold step in implementing the Public Safety Realignment Act. Now it should move beyond realignment to focus on rehabilitation.

Lois M. Davis is a senior policy researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

4) California’s own efforts at “success-oriented funding”

As California officials search for solutions to the state’s overcrowded prison system, they should consider using funding to shape a better system.

A “Success-Oriented Funding” model is a simple, yet effective approach: Lay out clear priorities for what taxpayer dollars should accomplish, then tie funding directly to achievement of those priorities. The concept is simple: Fund what works to reduce crime and incarceration, and dump what doesn’t.

Some states and cities—like Illinois and New York City—have already implemented Success-Oriented Funding programs, but California need not look outside its own borders for a model to reduce unnecessary incarceration.

Passed into law in 2009, the California Community Corrections Performance Incentive Act encourages probation offices to keep violators in the program rather than sending them back to prison by awarding counties up to 45 percent of what the state saves in prison costs. In its first year, California probation officers reduced the number of felony offenders sent back to prison by 23 percent, which saved the state nearly $180 million; of those savings, the counties received $88 million. This program promotes alternatives to incarceration that do not appear to significantly increase crime, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

The state should implement Success-Oriented Funding to criminal justice budgets across the board. For example, the legislature could provide additional funding—found within prison cost savings—to prosecutors’ offices that recommend alternatives to incarceration or to law enforcement agencies that issue citations in lieu of arrests. This could move California toward a smaller prison population and a more effective, socially beneficial, and efficient criminal justice system.

Nicole Fortier is Counsel in the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and co-author of a policy proposal to reform funding streams to reduce incarceration levels across the country.

5) Mississippi and its focus on alternatives to incarceration for low-level offenders

A growing number of states are recognizing that our “lock ‘em up” approach to criminal justice is breaking the bank—and the spirit of communities.

From New York to Kentucky to Georgia, states are saving resources and safely reducing the number of people behind bars. One of the latest is Mississippi, which has the nation’s second highest incarceration rate—and a history of racial injustice. This year, Mississippi passed comprehensive reform that focuses on alternatives to incarceration for low-level offenders and strengthens interventions to reduce recidivism.

This moment shows us that it is possible to push forth brave initiatives and policies that preserve resources while keeping our communities safe. Here are three steps we can take to ensure that public safety is a true civil and human right for all of us.

We can shift our “incarceration only” approach; instead of building more jails and prisons designed to warehouse, we can invest in evidence-based alternatives that can reduce crime and racial injustice in our system.

We can make reentry a priority, not an afterthought. Every day in California, people who have served their time are sent back to communities with little more than $50 and a bus pass. Without the opportunities they need to get their lives back on track, nearly 65 percent end up behind bars in just three years. We can stop recidivism by eliminating barriers to reentry and investing in rehabilitation and critical support needed to help formerly incarcerated people live meaningful, productive lives—and to keep them out of prison in the first place.

We can also build a broad-based coalition to collectively champion change. This is an issue that has deep implications across many sectors, including education, health, and the economy. From businesses and law enforcement leaders to advocates for families and communities, we need all voices calling for an end to business as usual.

Cages can’t create safe and healthy communities. Criminal justice reform is one of the leading civil rights issues of our time, and we must turn around the legacy of failed policies that are costing us not just dollars but also precious human potential.

Lateefah Simon is the Program Director for the Rosenberg Foundation and a long-time advocate for criminal justice reform.

This story originally appeared on Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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