Prop 47: Needed Reform or Does It Go Too Far?

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.”

The Legislative Analyst’s Office explains, “This measure reduces penalties for certain offenders convicted of nonserious and nonviolent property and drug crimes. The measure also allows certain offenders who have been previously convicted of such crimes to apply for reduced sentences.

“This measure would have a number of fiscal effects on the state and local governments. The size of these effects would depend on several key factors,” the LAO writes. “In particular, it would depend on the way individuals are currently being sentenced for the felony crimes changed by this measure. Currently, there is limited data available on this, particularly at the county level.”

The LAO continues, “The fiscal effects would also depend on how certain provisions in the measure are implemented, including how offenders would be sentenced for crimes changed by the measure. For example, it is uncertain whether such offenders would be sentenced to jail or community supervision and for how long. In addition, the fiscal effects would depend heavily on the number of crimes affected by the measure that are committed in the future. Thus, the fiscal effects of the measure described below are subject to significant uncertainty.”

However, they also note that the measure makes two changes that would reduce the state prison population and those associated costs.

“First, changing future crimes from felonies and wobblers to misdemeanors would make fewer offenders eligible for state prison sentences,” they write. “We estimate that this could result in an ongoing reduction to the state prison population of several thousand inmates within a few years.”

They continue, “The resentencing of inmates currently in state prison could result in the release of several thousand inmates, temporarily reducing the state prison population for a few years after the measure becomes law.”

However, “In addition, the resentencing of individuals currently serving sentences for felonies that are changed to misdemeanors would temporarily increase the state parole population by a couple thousand parolees over a three-year period. The costs associated with this increase in the parole population would temporarily offset a portion of the above prison savings.”

The campaign is aimed at changing sentencing for low-level and nonviolent crimes to misdemeanors and uses that money to fund other priorities.

Proponents of the proposition argue that this would prevent the wasting of prison space on low-level nonviolent crimes. They argue, “[It] changes the lowest level nonviolent drug possession and petty theft crimes from felonies to simple misdemeanors. It authorizes resentencing for anyone who is incarcerated for these offenses and poses no threat to public safety. These changes apply to juveniles as well as adults.”

Furthermore, it “keeps rapists, murderers and child molesters in prison” by maintaining current laws for registered sex offenders and anyone with prior convictions for rape, murder or child molestation.

They argue that it “[S]tops government waste and redirects hundreds of millions from prison spending to K-12 and treatment: California counties will save hundreds of millions annually and state prison reductions will generate between $750 million to $1.25 billion in savings over the next five years alone. Those savings will be shifted into K-12 school programs (25%), victim services (10%) and mental health and drug treatment (65%).”

Furthermore, it protects public safety by focusing “law enforcement resources on violent and serious crimes, and directs savings to programs that stop the cycle of crime. Prisoners may only be released if they demonstrate that they are no longer a threat to public safety.”

And finally it “reduces the collateral consequences of felony convictions for low-level crime: Reduces the barriers that many with felony convictions for low-level nonviolent crimes face to becoming stable and productive citizens, such as employment, housing and access to assistance programs and professional trades.”

But critics, like the Sacramento Bee editorial board, argue that it “goes too far, too soon after other major criminal justice system changes.”

Following the AB 109 changes, the Bee writes that while “law enforcement officials still are adjusting to the new order, voters are being called upon to decide Proposition 47, an initiative on the Nov. 4 ballot that would reduce penalties for people who commit certain nonviolent crimes and drug offenses including heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine possession.”

They urge a no vote, “in part because police and prosecutors are grappling with the landmark 2011 criminal justice realignment law that shifted responsibility for handling lower-level offenders to the counties.”

They note that voters approved a 2012 initiative reducing sentences for individuals who previously would have been sent to prison for decades under the 1994 “three-strikes” initiative.

“The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board supported those changes. We also have called for reductions in the state prison population. But while the number of inmates has started to tick up to 120,000, it remains far below the 165,000 it was in 2006,” they argue.

They note that the Legislative Analyst’s Office, “an impartial arbiter of ballot measures, notes that 220,000 people are convicted of felonies each year in California. If voters approve Proposition 47, about 40,000 offenders a year would be affected, facing misdemeanors rather than felonies, the analyst estimates. Those 40,000 criminals either would serve time in county jails or spend no significant time behind bars. Additionally, Proposition 47 would result in the resentencing and potential release of as many as 9,000 inmates now in state prison.”

The Bee also argues, “The change is unnecessary. Prosecutors already have the discretion to charge repeat felons with felonies or misdemeanors for minor crimes.”

However, they fail to note that, in counties like Yolo, prosecutors routinely charge these crimes as felonies and are only forced to reduce the charges to misdemeanors by judges on rare occasions, such as when they charge an individual for a felony for stealing a candy bar or other minor items.

The initiative’s backers include San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, the ACLU of Northern California, California Democratic Party and various philanthropists, the Bee notes. “Liberal billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Policy Center donated $1.2 million to the Yes-on-47 campaign, and long has supported reduced drug penalties and legalization. The Republican owner of Public Storage, B. Wayne Hughes, gave $750,000, and similarly believes society imprisons too many people.”

Opponents, who have raised little money, include organizations that represent district attorneys, police chiefs and sheriffs. The Bee writes, “They make a compelling case that this proposal could hurt public safety in cities that are struggling with gun violence, especially the state’s poorest neighborhoods.”

They say that, among its flaws, the initiative would redefine grand theft so that “theft of a firearm could only be considered a felony if the value of the gun is greater than $950.”

“Gascón, the initiative’s main proponent, disputes that claim, noting there are multiple ways to charge people in possession of concealed weapons with felonies,” they write. “Critics might be exaggerating their claims. It is, after all, a campaign. But if they are right, and the measure is flawed, Proposition 47 would be hard to fix. Legislators could alter its provisions only if they were reducing penalties, and then only by a two-thirds vote.”

They continue, “We don’t doubt that some people in prison could live peaceably on the outside, and that some sentences are too long. The Bee’s editorial board long has urged a thoughtful review of sentences. But that work ought to be done by a sentencing commission established by the governor and legislators. With few exceptions, the blunt instrument that is the initiative process should not be used to alter the criminal justice system.”

—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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32 Comments

  1. Davis Progressive

    “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.”

     

    long overdue.  i don’t get the sac bee’s objection, they should instead be trying to justify why someone with possession of drugs should be charged with a felony and sitting in prison.

    1. South of Davis

       

      David wrote:

      > 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.

       

      Then DP wrote:

      > long overdue

      Lets go even farther and make drug “possession” legal (I’m fine with locking up the guys selling meth to high school kids), but I don’t want the guy that seals ALL FIVE bikes in our back yard (combined value under $950), rips the gun safe out of a friends closet with his rifle and handgun in it (combined value under $950) or writes a bad check for $900 to a small business or contractor to get off with a slap on the wrist…

       

      1. Davis Progressive

        reasonable point, but you’re failing to consider that there are better ways for dealing with petty theft than locking them up on felonies.  the gun crimes can be charged differently.

        1. tribeUSA

          How about, in addition to community service and probation status, paying back double to the owner the cost of damages incurred during the theft, and double the (new) value of items stolen (or a high fine if stolen items are recovered undamaged)?

  2. Davis Progressive

    “The Bee also argues, “The change is unnecessary. Prosecutors already have the discretion to charge repeat felons with felonies or misdemeanors for minor crimes.””

    as david points out this is bs.  prosecutors don’t have the incentive to do that even if they have the discretion.

  3. Davis Progressive

    “They make a compelling case that this proposal could hurt public safety in cities that are struggling with gun violence, especially the state’s poorest neighborhoods.”
    They say that, among its flaws, the initiative would redefine grand theft so that “theft of a firearm could only be considered a felony if the value of the gun is greater than $950.”
    “Gascón, the initiative’s main proponent, disputes that claim, noting there are multiple ways to charge people in possession of concealed weapons with felonies,” they write. “Critics might be exaggerating their claims. It is, after all, a campaign. But if they are right, and the measure is flawed, Proposition 47 would be hard to fix. Legislators could alter its provisions only if they were reducing penalties, and then only by a two-thirds vote.”

    so if you acknowledge they could be exaggerating their claims, why not examine the issue to see that it’s bs.  it’s easy to turn anything involving a weapon into a felony.  so why play into this crap???

  4. Sam

    Below is the arrest record of one of the guys who (allegedly) paralyzed a man at the 49ers game last weekend. I am not sure that lessoning charges is a good idea. At some point a DA/judge should be able to decide that he is unable to by the rules in a free society.

     
    ·         Assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to 45 days in the county jail.
     
    ·         Hit and run with property damage, and sentenced to 120 days in jail and probation.
     
    ·         Vehicle theft and sentenced to 210 days in jail.
    ·         Arrested for drunk driving with a blood-alcohol level of .15 or more, driving on a suspended license and having an open container. He was sentenced to 10 days in jail and sent to a DUI program for first-time offenders.
    ·         Arrested for reckless driving, served five days in jail and received a 90-day suspended sentence.
    ·         Arrested for vehicle theft.
    ·         Arrested for driving under the influence of drugs, evading police, driving on a suspended license and resisting arrest. He was sentenced to two years in state prison.
     

     

  5. Barack Palin

    I don’t understand the sign in the article pic.  “Californians for safe neighborhoods and schools, Vote Yes on 47”

    How is voting yes on letting criminals out of jail going to promote safe neighborhoods and schools?  Anyone?

      1. Barack Palin

        Boy, that seems like a real stretch.  Let convicts out to make us more safe.  The world is turning upside down.  Prop. 47 will be a definate no vote from me just because of the lies in that ad.

        1. South of Davis

          BP wrote:

          > Boy, that seems like a real stretch.

          No bigger a “stretch” than “charge $0.10 for paper bags in Davis to change the global climate”…

        2. Davis Progressive

          why would you want to spend $50,000 a year to house someone who had half a gram of meth or stole $20 worth of groceries from the local supermarket? what if that money could go to put an extra cop on the streets or for better schools? doesn’t that make you safer?

        3. Barack Palin

          Some guy breaks your car window, $200, steals your Ipad, $600 gets just a misdemeanor and you have to go through the hassle of getting your car fixed and replacing your Ipad with a comprehensive $250 deductible out of your pocket and possibly higher insurance rates.  I feel so much safer because the thief didn’t have to go to jail.  NOT !!!

        4. Barack Palin

          But I’m sure DP will come back with if some poor soul stole a piece of cheese and went to jail, come on, we now that’s not the norm that those types of crimes end up in jail.  Most people in jail deserve to be in jail.

    1. Tia Will

      BP

      “How is voting yes on letting criminals out of jail going to promote safe neighborhoods and schools?  Anyone?”

      I am happy to take this one on. If you figure that keeping a person in a state prison costs somewhere between $50-100,000 annually, one can easily see that this a fair amount of money that could be spent in any number of different ways that would help community well being such as educational programs, after school programs, volunteer programs….. Next one needs to realize that not all “criminals” are created equal. The person who commits a completely non violent crime ( let’s say a non violent, non weapon carrying drug mule doing this to support her kids) would not be considered the same as a thief or burglar who happens to carry a weapon in case things go south. Letting the drug mule out of prison and perhaps instituting a different form of observation such as ankle bracelet or weekly check ins would be a cost savings and would not significantly endanger the community.

      A headline making example comes to mind. I thought it was absolutely ridiculous to have Martha Stewart incarcerated. A far more fitting punishment in my mind would have been to set her fines at some astronomically high level or have the equivalent amount of her products removed from the shelves. Now that would have been proportional and fitting punishment. Prison for someone who is no physical threat to anyone is in my opinion archaic and ridiculous in current times.

       

       

      1. Frankly

        How about we make all state government employees work until they are 67 years old before they qualify for retirement, and cap their retirement benefits at 60% of their base pay at retirement, and then use that savings to pay for essential social services like keeping the crooks locked up?

        1. Tia Will

          Frankly

           

          Those might be reasonable steps to take also. But they have absolutely nothing to do with “keeping crooks locked up”. If they are just “crooks” and in no other way dangerous within society, jail is the last place I would want them. Too costly, too brutal for the petty criminal ( who is likely to come out less socially well adapted than when he went in) and too detrimental overall to a society that tends to love to paint everyone as a “good guy or a bad guy”. If we were going to put “crooks” in jail, what about all the liars in the tobacco companies whose lies cost innumerable deaths. How about all of them being in jail. Or companies such as the tobacco farmers who know they are breaking child labor laws. Ready to put all of them in jail ? Or the makers of pharmaceuticals who know their product is no better than anything currently on the market but skew their research results for profit. Shall we jail all of those “crooks” too ?

           

  6. Frankly

    <i>why would you want to spend $50,000 a year to house someone who had half a gram of meth or stole $20 worth of groceries from the local supermarket? what if that money could go to put an extra cop on the streets or for better schools? doesn’t that make you safer?</i>

    Just look at this as another tax from left to fund their pets.

    The tax is that you will suffer more property loss and damage.  The crook just needs to make sure when he breaks your car window to only take $900 worth of stuff… each time.  So you suffer more loss (tax) and the Dems get even more money to spend on the people that help them stay in power.

    It is fine though, because the left thinks people have too much stuff and so it is no problem that we have more crooks on the streets stealing it.   You really don’t need all that stuff anyway.

    But yet our teachers don’t have enough stuff.  They should be given more… even though there is absolutely no correlation with more spending and better education.

    I am fine with reduced sentencing… and even decriminalization… on drug use.   I wish the hell we didn’t have the obscene safety net that allows so many to make a life during drugs while the state takes care of them, but otherwise I don’t think it is right or moral to lock up the idiot that cannot control himself.  I would prefer we spend the money on treatment rather than incarceration.  But I am absolutely against reducing sentencing for crimes against others.  Cause damage to yourself… that is your choice.  Cause damage to someone else… then get the book thrown at you.   That is the way it should be.

     

    1. Tia Will

      Frankly

      You seem to be missing the point that the individual at whom you have “thrown the book” is now living off your tax dollars.

      No one is arguing for not having consequences. The argument is against prison. Wouldn’t you be happier still with the impact of “the book”  if that person had to reimburse you directly monetarily for all the damage that they had done. So how about a combination of this proposal and a proposal that a thief had to wear an ankle bracelet, work at a job and pay you back incrementally until he has fully restored the full value of whatever he stole or damaged. You get reimbursed. You don’t have to pay for his incarceration. He experiences the consequences of having stolen from you. How is this not a better solution than him being in prison, you getting no compensation, and you paying for his room, board and medical care ?

       

      1. Frankly

        Sure.  Let’s make that happen then.  Let’s not just give the crook the equivalent of a parking ticket that requires him to steal more so he can pay for it.

        Petty property crime will skyrocket as a result of this proposition.   It is both an implicit and explicit message that certain theft is not that big of a problem.  Why do we assess monetary value at all?  Theft is theft.  Wrong is wrong.

        The crook that broke out my truck window and stole my wife’s purse and coat did not get $900 in stuff, but he caused me much more monetary damage in equivalent time to fix everything.  And he stole a coat that was a gift and could not be replaced.

        The point here is that the damage down to individuals and society as a whole is much greater than is the just the monetary cost of the thing damaged or stolen.

      2. tribeUSA

        Tia–I like your proposal in general, but would modify it to pay back the victim double the value to repair property damage, and double the value of items stolen (or if items recovered undamaged, a steep fine). The 2X $ penalty,  in addition to compensating the victim for time & trouble; lets a potential perp know that financially he will come out behind if he gets caught (not just break even), and its good healthy instant karma for the perp; he will wind up as much behind financially as would have the victim if the perp had gotton away with his crime.

        1. Tia Will

          tribeUSA

          Interesting idea. Since I do not like the idea of any individual profiting from the law having been broken, I will make a counter offer. How about the thief has to pay twice the value of what was stolen. The victim is payed back the entire value of the loss and the equivalent amount goes to some form of crime prevention program or scholarship funding or after school program to keep possible miscreants off the streets ?

        2. tribeUSA

          Tia: Re your Oct.12 modified proposal: I agree with this modification; yes some funny things could start to happen if ‘victims’ start profiting from crime (temptation for frame-ups, etc.).

        3. theotherside

          Pay you back with what?  Their savings account?  Borrow from their IRA?  Lean on their EBT cards?  Restitution is a joke now and you want to double it?  Then when one of them claims it’s cruel and unusual punishment, then what?  We are too soft on crime as it is, so the solution is softer???

  7. Davis Progressive

    “The tax is that you will suffer more property loss and damage.  The crook just needs to make sure when he breaks your car window to only take $900 worth of stuff… each time. ”

    PC 487 already sets that amount, the difference is that right now it’s a wobbler, now it will become a misdemeanor.

  8. justme

    I will just put this out there….  You dont think criminals should be in jail so where do you think they should be???  Roaming the streets of Davis in search of their next victim???  That next victim just might be you!!!

    1. Tia Will

      justme

       

      Well, I already answered that, but I can repeat. I think that non violent criminals  should be at their job that they are using to compensate their victim with a tracking ankle bracelet so that they can be kept under surveillance.

      And what makes you think that I haven’t ever been a victim. My car has been broken into several times with amounts under  $900.00  stolen on both occasions. I hasn’t changed my mind as I see no point in cutting off my nose to spite my face. If the individuals had been caught I would have wanted the penalty to be just what I have stated. The thief has consequences, I get my money back ( although the headache of replacing my window remains) , and you and I don’t have to pay for his room and board. As a two time victim, I far prefer this solution.

       

  9. Tia Will

    I could not help but  notice that no one responded to my question about what any of you think should happen to the corporate criminals that cost thousands of people their lives. It seems to me that everyone is so very concerned about “criminals” and locking up them up when it is the petty thief on the street. But it also seems that no one has a word to say about corporate criminals who make millions while killing thousands. Where do those folks belong in your estimation ?  Out hiring consultants to get more kids addicted to their products in the case of the tobacco company CEOs ?  I have included quotes from tobacco company executives previously citing their strategy of getting more children addicted to replace their dying off adult smokers and no one had a word to say about that. Lying about the safety and efficacy of your product is against the law thus making them ‘criminals’ and yet no one had a word to say.

    It seems that the “throw the book ” at them crowd have two different play books.

    Play book one. Break a even a small law in the community where I can see you and feel threatened, and we will put you in prison.

    Play book two. Break a law that has consequences for millions of people, but which doesn’t affect me and if you are rich enough, or it adds to your profits you get a free pass.

    I would like to see this the other way around. I would like to see those who make their living plotting how to keep the real costs of their crimes covered up pay serious consequences that might actually be a deterrent to others, while the petty criminal pays back the amount,or double the amount if you like of his crime.

    I also think that prosecutors who break the law should also have to pay the cost of their crime. For example, withhold exculpatory evidence knowingly, a fitting punishment would be to pay back the falsely imprisoned individual the amount they would have likely earned at their profession for the amount of time they were incarcerated. There might be a bit of deterrent in this strategy also.

    How about it guys ? Break the law……any law…..and pay a truly compensatory price.

     

     

     

    1. tribeUSA

      Tia–Absolute agreement that we need to go after the big-boys; the big Wall Street trading/finance crooks have ill-gotton gains that likely far exceed, in monetary value, the take by all the welfare queens/kings since the 1960s. Our wonderful attorney general Holder (who for some reason reminds me of the carnival flim-flam men I used to sometimes trade wisecracks with at carnivals as a kid) made some kind of statement to the effect that these people were too difficult to go after and too important to the stability of the USA banking/financial system; so the justice department would not go after them. Instead of enforcing border laws and also going after the big-time Wall Street crooks, which would have helped the bottom line of black americans in real financial terms of less competition for entry level jobs (thus higher wages) and that of all Americans in the long-term with at least a partially cleaned-up Wall Street financial/banking system; he has chosen to focus on civil rights in an old demagogue style; which has not and likely will not help the financial well-being of black families by one iota (another feel-good scheme), and may instead have the effect of wedging racial groups further apart.

  10. Davis Progressive

    i think people need to get over the mindset that every crime needs to be handled through prison.  if we lower the prison population, we open up resources to allow us to handle things outside of the “box” and that might mean a better way to deal with low level crime.  what we’re doing right now isn’t good really for anyone.

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