Eye on the Courts: Is Prop 47 The End of Safe Neighborhoods or Critical Prison Reform?

Under Proposition 47, the state would reduce to misdemeanors offenses for drug possession, petty theft, receiving stolen property or writing bad checks, when the amount involved is less than $950. It would continue to allow for felony sentences if the person has a previous conviction for crimes such as rape, murder or child molestation, or is a registered sex offender.

It also will require “resentencing for persons serving felony sentences for these offenses unless court finds unreasonable public safety risk.” The attorney general projects, “Net state criminal justice system savings that could reach the low hundreds of millions of dollars annually, which would be spent on truancy prevention, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and victim services. Net county criminal justice system savings that could reach the low hundreds of millions of dollars annually.”

This weekend Davis Police Chief Landy Black and Yolo County Public Defender Tracie Olson had contrasting op-eds on Prop 47.

Chief Black argues, “It is my professional opinion that if Prop. 47 passes, the results would be bad for law-abiding citizens, businesses and property owners, and entirely contrary to my and the Davis Police Department’s crime prevention and community safety efforts.”

He adds, “Prop. 47 would be disastrous to the prospect of assuring safe neighborhoods, especially here in Davis. There would be less safety in our neighborhoods and more victims of crime — a markedly lower quality of life. There are many reasons why I and my fellow California police chiefs stand united with the state’s district attorneys, victim advocacy groups, the League of California Cities and retail and business associations, all in opposition to Prop. 47.”

On the other hand, Public Defender Tracie Olson argues, “For decades, California has relied on the mass incarceration of its offenders as the answer to crime control, no matter the crime.” She adds, “Despite the high cost, prisons offer little to no meaningful rehabilitation programs to offenders. Not surprisingly, recidivism rates consistently hover around the 70 percent mark, meaning that seven out of 10 inmates released from state prison are back behind bars within three years.”

“Under current law, most simple drug possession and petty theft offenses are punishable by up to three years in state prison, with a $60,000 price tag attached to each year of incarceration. However, at a 70 percent recidivism rate, the current system has created a costly revolving door that cycles offenders in and out of prison without any deterrent or rehabilitative effect,” she writes, “Proposition 47 seeks to change the state-incarceration-for-all paradigm by reducing to misdemeanors the lowest-level crimes.”

And that is where they differ. Chief Landy Black argues that, while it may appear to eliminate felonies for minor crimes, there are some crimes that get caught in a loophole. For example, he argues that “gun thieves would be protected under Prop. 47.”

“The measure would eliminate automatic felony prosecution for stealing a gun. Under current law, stealing a gun is a felony — period. And that makes good sense. Yet, Prop. 47 would redefine grand theft in such a way that theft of a firearm could only be considered a felony if the value of the gun is greater than $950,” he argues. “Almost all handguns (which are the most stolen kind of firearm) have a retail value well below $950. Criminals don’t steal guns just so they can add to their gun collection. They steal guns to commit other crimes.”

He also argues that “the measure undermines laws against sex crimes. Prop. 47 will reduce to a simple misdemeanor the possession of the types of drugs used to facilitate date rape.” He argues, “No matter how many times a suspected sexual predator has been charged with possession of date-rape drugs, it will only be a misdemeanor, and the judge will be forced to sentence them as if it were their very first time in court.”

Therefore, “Date-rapists would be protected under Prop. 47.”

He also argues that, by making “the possession of cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin a misdemeanor,” it “would eliminate the incentive for offenders/abusers to engage in the rehabilitative efforts encouraged through Drug Court programs.”

He argues, “Prop. 47 would act as an incentive for drug abusers/offenders, looking for the easiest and shortest route out of the plight of a drug arrest, to just ‘do the time’ rather than engage in Drug Court and rehabilitation, since the 18- to 24-month process of an intensive treatment program associated with Drug Court can seem far more onerous than a short misdemeanor sentence in county jail (or as AB 109 and the justice realignment calls for, merely community supervision).

“Prop 47 virtually guarantees that these enlightened times, where our justice system supports the drug rehabilitation and recovery process, would come to an end.”

Chief Black furthermore argues, “Prop. 47 will have a direct and negative effect on Davis PD’s crime reduction strategies: Specific to Davis, but not unique in the broader universe of what the study of crime tends to show, there is a significant connection between drug use/sales and those who are committing property crimes against Davis residents, businesses and visitors.”

He writes, “While there may be arguments that drug laws are too tough, what cannot be ignored, especially in Davis, is that because of the drug/stolen property connection, by making drug arrests, with felony sanctions hanging in the balance, the Davis Police Department has been making significant progress in bringing the local property crime rate down.”

Therefore, he argues, “Losing that tool — drug laws with teeth — to help us fight the increase in crime that came with AB 109 (and the more than 40,000 fewer offenders now being incarcerated than two to three years ago) will effectively stop in its tracks our initiatives to reduce property and other types of crime through focused enforcement.”

Finally, he writes, “Retail thieves, commercial burglars, fraud artists and forgers would be protected under Prop. 47.” He argues, “For retailers, Prop. 47 is really the ‘Professional Retail Thieves Empowerment Act.’ Many of the crimes our local retailers, and many of our residents, are plagued by — commercial burglary, credit card fraud, forgery, bad checks, etc. — would no longer be felonies. Whatever deterrent effect on property criminals still exists in this AB 109 era would vanish with this professional retail thief-friendly proposition.”

Tracie Olson notes that there are exceptions under Prop 47, including for “those required to register as sex offenders; those with convictions for violent crimes such as murder, rape and child molestation; and those with certain prior weapon offenses.” That would avoid the loopholes identified by Chief Black.

“While covered offenders still could be punished up to a year in jail under Prop. 47, the emphasis would change to sentences that allow for rehabilitation, and the proposed legislation provides money for that very purpose,” she writes.

She notes, “The Legislative Analyst’s Office, the California Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal and policy adviser, estimates the money saved by diverting offenders from state prison is in the hundreds of millions each year. This amounts to a savings of approximately $1 billion in five years.”

Under the proposed law, “65 percent of savings would be allocated to provide mental health and substance abuse treatment services to offenders to keep them from returning to crime. Studies have shown that rehabilitation programs that use evidence-based practices can significantly reduce recidivism rates and prevent crime.”

Additionally, Ms. Olson argues that “evidence proves students with high truancy and dropout rates are more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system. Prop. 47 would allocate 25 percent of savings to public schools to address truancy and dropout problems among K-12 students, potentially ending what’s commonly referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline.”

She notes, “While California is spending $60,000 per year to house an inmate in prison, it currently averages only $9,200 per K-12 student per year. A teacher’s annual salary is a little over $40,000 per year. Interventions that keep kids in school will lead to a proportional reduction in crime.”

“The remaining 10 percent of savings would be allocated to the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board, which oversees the provision of compensation to crime victims and collection of restitution from offenders. Prop. 47 directs the board to make grants to trauma recovery centers to provide therapy and other services to crime victims,” she writes.

By reclassifying the lowest-level crimes to misdemeanors, “Prop. 47 also ensures that covered offenders do not have to suffer the ‘collateral consequences’ that accompany a felony conviction. A felony conviction imposes significant barriers to successful reintegration into society. It reduces or eliminates access to housing, meaningful employment and educational opportunities, professional licenses and public benefits. Stability is the cornerstone of successful re-entry, and avoiding the effects of a felony conviction from the outset encourages offenders to experience and sustain rehabilitation.”

Lastly, Tracie Olson argues, “Prop. 47 would allow eligible inmates to ask trial judges to reconsider the sentences they handed down. If judges determine the inmates pose an unreasonable risk to the public, the applications will be denied. If judges find resentencing is appropriate, offenders will be supervised on parole for the next year.”

Unlike critics of Prop 47, she notes that “Prop. 47 would not reduce penalties for date rape, administering date-rape drugs, possession of a firearm by a felon, concealing a stolen firearm, stealing a firearm through the use of force or fear, nor for an assortment of other gun-related offenses. Assertions that imply the contrary are simply not true.”

Landy Black concludes by noting, “The California Police Chiefs Association, representing 329 police chiefs, leads its opposition with this statement: ‘Proposition 47 is a dangerous and radical package of ill-conceived policies wrapped in a poorly drafted initiative which will endanger Californians. The proponents of this dangerous initiative have already admitted that Proposition 47 will make 10,000 felons eligible for early release. According to independents analysis, the vast majority of those 10,000 felons have violent criminal histories.'”

He writes, “I hope voters end up sharing with me a well-informed sense of alarm that Proposition 47 is inconsistent with the prospect of keeping Davis safe and livable.”

Tracie Olson concludes, “Prop. 47 promises to reduce prison spending and improve public safety by redirecting savings to invest in interventions that reduce crime.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Chase Tinsley

    He also argues that “The measure undermines laws against sex crimes. Prop. 47 will reduce to a simple misdemeanor the possession of the types of drugs used to facilitate date rape. “ He argues, “No matter how many times a suspected sexual predator has been charged with possession of date-rape drugs, it will only be a misdemeanor, and the judge will be forced to sentence them as if it were their very first time in court.”

    Therefore, “Date-rapists would be protected under Prop. 47.

    It is disappointing yet unsurprising that law enforcement actually believes in these statements, as in the story behind the story – and futher, terrifying the under-educated with the words “date-rape drug” was a smart political move for Proposition 47’s opponents. So what’s the story behind the story?

    The demonized substances that take the beating for “Date-Rape Drugs,” which already have special designations and penalties – including a stack of them federally – are Gamma Hydroxybutyrate [and its common analogues/prodrugs] and Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol) [a potent benzodiazepine used primarily as a hypnotic for severe insomnia due to other medical reasons or extreme tolerance to benzodiazepines, z-drugs, and most other GABA(a) BZD receptor subtype substances].

    The part of the story being left out is that because of a disheartening date-rape case 20 years ago, Flunitrazepam, which wasn’t available commercially in the US (though it’s cousin, Nitrazepam [Mogadon] was a favored hypnotic for years until newer benzos cut demand). As such, it was left in Schedule IV of the CSA from the Convention on Psychotropic Chemicals circa 1974. To date, it is the only benzodiazepine that the USAG through the DEA has rescheduled, and that is to Schedule I (No Legitimate Medical Use, High Potential for Abuse, Death, or Misuse, etc) alongside Marijuana and Mushrooms. Flunitrazepam is really just a potent hypnotic, but by weight and through anecdotal studies, 1mg=10mg Diazepam – Same with Xanax, Ativan, and Klonopin (all arguably). Compare to Halcion (Triazolam – 0.25mg = 10mg Diazepam), a still on the market and prescribed benzo today, and still just Schedulle IV like all the other controlled benzos.

    I’ll be here all day writing if i dont keep it simple, but GHB wasn’t around for the Convention and subsequently remained legal until the 90’s, and not even Scheduled until 1999ish. It was placed into I under an emergency review order, and despite much opposition, permanentely placed. Interestingly enough, GHB is one of the very few unique drugs that is dual-schedulded by itself. The DEA’s take on it is that when it is prescribed as Xyrem, truthfully the only effective narcolepsy drug, especially for those with cataplexy, it is “temporarily taken out of Schedule I and placed into III under extenuating circumstances.” Doctors can call in, without a triplicate prescption that amphetamines and heavy opiates require, Schedule III [Ketamine too, side note] and IV[Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Librium, Restoril, Doral, Klonopin, Onfi, Tranxene, Serax, Versed, Halcion, Restoril, Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata] drugs.

    The truth is that what law enforcement identifies as date-rape drugs for the most part are the two named above, NOT the drugs found  in most parents medicine cabinets for emergencies. A little google searching will show you the numbers, and you’ll be quite surprised how many people even claim or are thought to be date-raped by GHB(or analogues) and Rohypnol – google it – you’ll see why I wrote so much on this. When the aforementioned drugs are even used in crime, it seems to be rare as hell for theft related purposess.

    There is a reason this is all important and relates to Prop 47. Most people caught in possession of a few Xanax end up charged with the Misdeamenor 11377, if they arent pre-trially diverted out of the system in the first place. GHB hard to catch, but the laws make it where its a felony if being used for date-rape, so 47 would change nothing. The real kicker – to make most of these substances date-rape drugs, a little alcohol is needed – as their synergestic effects to the benzo-naive are what cause the major increases in sedation and amnestic qualities. And I don’t see alcohol being talked about much in the 47 debate at all – the #1 date rape drug known to man – and already most alcohol related crimes are a misdemeanor.

    Just some of my two cents and background knowledge. I have to get back to work..but Prop 47 is very important to me and my still active drug possession case (He also argues that “The measure undermines laws against sex crimes. Prop. 47 will reduce to a simple misdemeanor the possession of the types of drugs used to facilitate date rape. “ He argues, “No matter how many times a suspected sexual predator has been charged with possession of date-rape drugs, it will only be a misdemeanor, and the judge will be forced to sentence them as if it were their very first time in court.”
    Therefore, “Date-rapists would be protected under Prop. 47.

  2. Robert Canning

    It’s too bad that law enforcement and criminal justice groups have adopted the spin that this change in the law “protects” certain groups of criminals. It’s a subtle but distorted twist on how the law works. The opposite of criminalizing behaviors is not the “protection” of the non-criminal behaviors. This is a linguistic trick.

    Starting in the late 1970’s when determinate sentencing was signed into law by then-Governor Brown, the legislature began tinkering with the penal code, making more than a thousand changes in penalties, adding crimes (carjacking, for instance), instituting mandatory sentencing for certain crimes, and adding enhancements that could add years to a defendant’s sentence (“Use a gun, go to prison”). Many of these changes were in response to the rapidly rising crime rate in the 1980’s and resulted in increased rates of incarceration and the beginning of mass incarceration in California. In 1980 California had around 15,000 prison inmates and a dozen prisons. Today we have 140,000 inmates (down from 172,000 in 2006) spread among 35 in-state prisons and three out-of-state private prisons.

    Although some would claim that keeping people in prison for long periods and had been the moving force behind the dramatic drop in crime rates since the 1990’s, academic criminologists like Willaim Zimring at UC Berkeley have carefully documented that the small effect that mass incarceration has had on the crime rate.

    As Paige St. John wrote in the LA Times last week, Prop. 47 removes felony status for a small number of crimes that account for about 20% of criminal convictions in California annually. They would be sent to local county jails or programs instead of state prison. This will save California many millions of dollars over the long run – even if (and that’s a big if) some of them go on to commit more crimes.

    The anti-Prop 47 folks also seek to scare the citizenry about those dangerous 10,000 inmates who will be released early. What they fail to say is that any prisoner who petitions their court of sentencing must be found to NOT be a danger to the public safety before they can be re-sentenced. When this same process occurred with Prop 36, the change to the Three Strikes Law, there were fears from some quarters that this would unleash a crime wave on the state. This has simply not been the case. And many of those three-strikers who petitioned for release were denied and are still in CDCR.

    Prop. 47 removes penalties that are no longer needed, in my opinion, and should be approved by the voters.

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      Mr. Canning omits a lot of relevant data. He omits the monumental explosion in gang activity: just turn on reality TV or watch Boyz in the Hood. Large sections of California cities are divided by the Nortenos, Sorenos, Bulldogs, and other groups. Cities like Fresno have gone from sleepy agriculture towns to top-rated crime statistics for things like car theft, violent crime, and violent gang activity (see the Bulldogs). Cities in Napa have gone from 1 gang to over 20 in just a few short decades.

      Mr. Canning also doesn’t mention that our state population tripled, but we didn’t build a anew prison in decades.

      Even the liberal Los Angeles Times has documented our increasing crime problems.

      “A Los Angeles Times investigative report revealed the newly over-crowded county jails are also refusing to “book” into jail many serious criminal offenders. Those that do get jailed are bouncing back out on the streets after serving less than 10% of their sentences.”

      Further: “The Times referred to the metastasizing problem as creating a “revolving door” for dangerous criminals at jailhouses. Hardened inmates are being booted out of jail only to return on new charges. Parolee supervision has been often been reduced to interacting with user-friendly automated kiosks.”

      And this: “But opponents say such [lowered crime] statistics are bogus because the six-year study “did not include the current spike in violent offenders released early,” and many criminals are “allowed to plead down” normally criminal offenses to misdemeanors since jails are full.”






  3. Davis Progressive

    it reads like landy took a boiler plate for the no on 47 campaign and copied it here.  the idea that this will impact sexual assault or gun thefts is a joke.  also, he fails to account for repeat offenses.

     “Prop. 47 would not reduce penalties for date rape, administering date-rape drugs, possession of a firearm by a felon, concealing a stolen firearm, stealing a firearm through the use of force or fear, nor for an assortment of other gun-related offenses. Assertions that imply the contrary are simply not true.”

    1. Clem Kadiddlehopper

      Classifying crimes like forgery or stealing a gun as felonies rather than as misdemeanors is important. There is no such thing as a Search Warrant to recover evidence for any misdemeanor crime, only for felonies. So, if a forger, who is often a career criminal and a specialist in this type of crime is captured on a video camera at a business and is later identified, the police will not be able to obtain a warrant to search his residence to recover the stolen money or addditional evidence of the crime. If you saw your neighbor steal your gun and take it into his house. The police would not be able to obtain a search warrant to recover the gun and prove the crime. There is also a major difference between when the police can arrest a suspect. A felony arrest can be made by the police with probable cause. A misdemaeanor arrest can only be made when a cop actually witnesses the crime. Unless you really want these offenses ignored – don’t change the law.

      1. Davis Progressive

        the gun charging issue is a red-herring.  there are too many different ways to charge gun theft as a felony two of the most basic are felon in position of a weapon and force and fear provisions.

        do you really believe that 20 percent of our prisons should be filled with drug users and other non-violent offenders?

        1. Don Shor

          do you really believe that 20 percent of our prisons should be filled with drug users and other non-violent offenders?

          Is that an actual statistic? Just curious. You’d probably know better than most of us.

        2. Davis Progressive

          here’s the best link for that information: http://www.cjcj.org/uploads/cjcj/documents/proposition_47_county_estimates.pdf

          they estimate for los angeles county.


        3. South of Davis

          DP wrote:

          > do you really believe that 20 percent of our prisons

          > should be filled with drug users and other non-violent

          > offenders?

          I don’t want ANY drug users on non-violent offenders in jail, and I’m happy to go even farther and make personal use of all drugs (except meth) legal.  I am going to vote NO on this since I’m NOT happy that the guy that steals my gun, my bike, my laptop (or anything else I own worth under $1K) will be treated the same as a Holmes Jr, High kid who took a pack of gum from Nugget…

        4. Davis Progressive

          i can see the campaign has worked.  stealing a gun will most likely be a felony even if it passes.  stealing your bike or your laptop most likely would be a misdemeanor now.  grand theft limit is currently $880

        5. theotherside

          I am simply pointing out your flawed reasoning.  You say that 20% of the prison population is there for drugs.  Then you cite a jail population study.  Then you recognize that you understand they are two completely different institutions.  You should look into political advertising, you are a natural.

  4. tribeUSA

    Yep, I agree that an exception should be made for firearms; stealing of any firearm should remain a felony. Otherwise I might be in favor of this legislation; if it also includes increased requirements for tracking periods for (misdeameanor) crimes, such as robust ankle bracelets, with heavy penalties for removal of these devices.

    1. Davis Progressive

      you’re almost always going to be able to get firearms charged as a felony because there are a host of other laws regarding weapons.  don’t let that stop you from supporting needed legislation.

  5. theotherside

    The problem is that prop 47 is only designed to empty our prisons because Jerry Brown was told to do so.  He gave it a cute name “Safe Neighborhoods & Schools” to trick you.  He is further tricking you by making laws that already exist.  Theft of anything under $950 IS ALREADY A MISDEMEANOR
    487. Grand theft is theft committed in any of the following cases:
    (a) When the money, labor, or real or personal property taken is
    of a value exceeding nine hundred fifty dollars ($950), except as
    provided in subdivision …. is a felony.

    The same $950 dollar ceiling is placed on theft related penal codes requiring a misdemeanor. This was changed years ago. People do not go to prison for petty theft, even with the required 3 prior convictions that make it a felony.

    He is further tricking you by leading you to believe that people go to prison for simple drug possession; they do not. Prop 36 and AB 109 saw to that. All Brown is doing is trying to have thousands of career criminals in prison re-sentenced so he can empty out the prisons and send them to your neighborhood. Safe?

    Chief Black is 100% correct that this will increase crime in local communities and thwart law enforcement’s efforts to reduce crime.

  6. Barack Palin

    “Safe Neighborhoods & Schools” 

    This is the biggest crock.  Hard to believe that we have the usual suspects on here that actually are buying into this.


  7. TrueBlueDevil

    Take everything Traci Olson says with a grain of salt as she has lied to us about what the average teacher salary is, which she claims is a little over $40,000 per year.

    According to the California Department of Education, the midrange elementary teacher salary is $63,903; the midrange high school teacher salary is $66,299. These figures are for generally a 9- or 10-month period of time (not a full year working), and don’t include often generous pension and health care benefits.



      1. TrueBlueDevil

        Like I said, if she was so far off on basic facts, take what she says with a grain (or block) of salt. Maybe the word “lie” was too harsh, but often people with a political agenda “blur” the facts to suit their needs.

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