By David M. Greenwald
Santa Monica, CA – Last Wednesday, the Santa Monica Democratic Club hosted a forum of all eight of the Democratic candidates for DA including incumbent George Gascón. One question they were asked was on Prop 47.
Question: Back in 2014 and 2016, California voters passed propositions 47 and 57, which reduced many types of drug and petty theft crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. What in your assessment has been the effect of these propositions on public safety and the criminal justice system and how, if at all, do you believe these laws should be amended or modified considering their impact?
Debra Archuleta: Prop 47, the Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act. Does anybody for one minute believe that Prop 47 stands for the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act?
Nobody feels that we are safer because of Prop 47. It’s not that it was a bad law because it was passed by the voters by 60 to 40. However, under the lack of leadership in the current district attorney, the law’s being misapplied. Now there are people up here that think it should be repealed. However, we can’t start repealing laws because that is the job of the legislature. We are in the business of upholding the law because they’re on the books. Whether it’s the death penalty or it’s 47. 57 has emptied the jails and we’ve seen what’s happened. All those people are living on your streets and mine.
Eric Siddall: Amend Prop 47 so that habitual offenders, people who chronically are shoplifting and things like that, they are prosecuted in a different way than someone who’s a first time, second time offender. In terms of Prop 57, I believe in sentencing reform, I think sentencing reform is important. If you want to change the way that people are in prison, if you want to make sure that they can actually rehabilitate.
However, I think Prop 57 is a misguided way of getting to that. What I would do, I think Jerry Brown is trying to do, was he was trying to go back to an indeterminate sentencing law. And that’s going to take a lot more than 30 seconds to explain, but it’s a law that basically allows us to use sentences to rehabilitate people so that people have an incentive while they’re in prison to be able to get out of this.
Maria Ramirez: With regard to Prop 47, I would strongly advocate for amendments to that law. It was created back in a time when we did not have as much of the problems that we do today with the smash and grabs and the thefts of houses and businesses; we have to adjust to that and Prop 47 did not account for those recidivist offenders that kept going, repeating after time, after time, committing crimes. And so I would advocate for amending that and then as well as for Prop 57, I think we have to bring it up to the times today and we have to amend those flaws to ensure that we are addressing the problems that we have today in our society.
Craig Mitchell: The greatest beneficiaries of Prop 47 are drug dealers and the drug cartels.
If the criminal justice system has no way to incentivize treatment drug use will continue unchecked and that is what has happened. Before Prop 47, what were the programs? They were flawed. DEJ Prop 36, you were given a choice, you going to do a little bit of custody time or you’re going to go into treatment. After Prop 47, the drug users understood no real jail time. I can get out immediately. Of course today you’re not even getting arrested. Your drug use will go uninterrupted. We’re making the cartels and the drug dealers rich on the facts of the addicted.
John McKinney: Prop 47 has to be amended for two reasons. One, it took away our ability to prosecute repeated theft crimes more seriously so that every theft crime under $950 is a straight misdemeanor period. And that makes no sense. You wouldn’t raise your child by giving your child the same punishment if they keep defying you over and over and over again. But more importantly, on the drug side, it reduced possession and use to misdemeanors. By doing that, it eviscerated the power of our drug courts, which up to that point was the only government response to hardcore drug addicted people. And that’s why you see so many more drug addicted people on the streets today. And by the way, these are not your parents’ drugs that they’re taking, these drugs that they’re taking are laced with fentanyl. These opioids that they’re taking, these synthetic opioids are causing brain damage. So when we see these dual diagnosed people both with mental illness and hardcore drug addiction, it’s because in some ways the drugs are causing mental illness.
Jonathan Hatami: Prop 47 needs to be amended or repealed. That’s it. And period. And as district attorney, I would be everything in by power to do that, the threshold from $950 need to be brought down to $400 and we do need drug court back. If drug court was a program that actually helped individuals who were addicted to drugs, they actually provided a hammer. You were arrested, you were using drugs, you were brought into court and you were given this program as you completed this program as rehabilitation, then your arrest was removed and your conviction was removed. Prop 47 got rid of that. It needs to be amended or revealed immediately. Prop 57 also needs to be amended. Did you know that there were early releasing individuals who were committed sex trafficking? There were early releasing individuals who were pivoting rape by intoxication or rape by GHV. They put so many different crimes into Prop 57 as early release and release so many individuals who are violent individuals in our society. Both of those policies and both of those laws did one thing, they created more crime and they need to be amended or repealed immediately.
George Gascón: You know the year before counting there were approximately 2000 people that went through drug court, accounting of over 10 million people. And by the way, both of you continued to fail that process. Prop 47 passed in 2014 and crime continued to go down and until 2020 when the pandemic came up and crime started to go up. The reality is that their study over studies have shown clearly and convincingly that Prop 47 has not increased crime. In fact, when you look at the $450 threshold that was in 1982 threshold and there was simply adjusted for inflation to $950, most of the states around the nature, the misdemeanor threshold is nearly a thousand dollars. In fact, Texas, Tennessee, many of those red states have higher thresholds in California, the reality is that we’re going through an epidemic that has caused many problems and displacement that are not associated with Prop 47.
Jeff Chemerinsky: There’s a lot of misinformation about As to the first component, the rising of the threshold from $400 to $950. Here’s the facts, 38 states have thresholds that are higher. Texas has a threshold that’s $2,500.
Linking the threshold to increase is crime is simply not true, there’s 38 states that have higher thresholds.
Now I do think we need to study and take a careful look at whether there needs to be increased penalties for repeat offenders. I think that’s something that needs to be considered very carefully. But I don’t believe that the threshold of $950 should be changed. That was to the other component of Prop 47. I don’t believe that jailing drug users is the solution. I simply don’t buy that. I think that reform was appropriate. I also believe that Prop 57 was an appropriate reform. I think it appropriately gave people an opportunity for early release that they can prove that they deserve.