Proposition 47 reduces penalties for some crimes: Leading in polls

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Proposition 47, alternatively the Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative or The Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act, seeks to “ensure that prison spending is focused on violent and serious offenses, to maximize alternatives for non-serious, nonviolent crime, and to invest the savings generated from this act into preventing and supporting programs in K–12 schools, victim services, and mental health and drug treatment.”

The effects of the legislation, say proponents, would be to open currently overcrowded prison bed space to the most dangerous criminals and save the state criminal justice system hundreds of millions of dollars annually spent prosecuting lower-level offenders. A similar annual savings would also accrue to the county criminal justice system. Both estimates of savings come from the state’s legislative analyst and director of finance. The measure is leading in both the Field and Public Policy Institute of California polls with margins from 57 to 62 percent in the “yes” column.

Caveats are in place in the legislation, placed on the ballot through the initiative process, that attempt to ensure that resentencing does not release inmates with prior convictions for murder, rape, certain sex offenses or certain gun crimes.

The measure would require a “thorough review” of criminal history and mandate a risk assessment of any individual prior to resentencing to ensure they pose no danger to the public. About 10,000 current inmates would be eligible for resentencing, according to Lenore Anderson of Californians for Safety and Justice. Measure guidelines would apply to juveniles as well as adults.

Prop 47 would also create a “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund,” using estimated savings of $150 to $250 million per year, with 25 percent of annual savings to be directed to the Department of Education, 10 percent to the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board, and 65 percent to the Board of State and Community Correction to fund mental health and substance abuse treatment and victim services as well as reducing school truancy and preventing school dropout rates.

Specifically, the measure would require misdemeanor sentencing instead of felony for the following crimes in which the value of the criminal “taking” does not exceed $950: shoplifting; grand theft; receiving stolen property; forgery of check, bond or bill; fraudulent use of a check, draft or order; or authoring of a bad check. Also eligible for penalty reduction would be personal use of most illegal drugs.

Opponents include many law enforcement agencies including the California District Attorneys Association, California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, California Police Chiefs Association, the California State Sheriffs Association and Crime Victims United. San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman says the measure would release thousands of dangerous inmates and would prevent judges from blocking early release of prisoners except in “really rare cases.” She also asserts that reducing penalties for “date rape” drugs to misdemeanors undermines current laws against sex crimes.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, who cosponsored the initiative, cited prison overcrowding, incarceration of non-violent offenders with mental health or substance abuse problems, and increased rates of recidivism as elements of a broken sentencing system that need to be fixed. “Incarceration doesn’t fix the problem,” he said, arguing that sentencing needs to be revised.

A recent analysis by a non-partisan think tank, the California Budget Project, found that passage of Prop 47 would likely reduce recidivism rates, improve community health and lower crime rates and criminal justice spending.

Additional opponents include: the California Republican Party, the California Retailers Association, California Peace Officers Association and the California Correctional Supervisors Association.

Supporters include: the California Democratic Party, California ACLU, the AFL-CIO, the California Federation of Teachers, the California Labor Federation, the League of Women Voters, and the California Catholic Conference of Bishops.

See the full text of the measure at www.sos.ca.gov/elections /ballot-measures/qualified-ballot-measures.htm.

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