Proposition 47 Becomes a Reality

Utilizing the initiative process, by obtaining the necessary number of registered voters signatures, the citizens of California enacted Proposition 47 by a vote of 58.5 to 41.5 percent signaling the intent on the part of California voters to allow for reclassification and resentencing of certain classes of criminal offenders. 

Proposition 47 follows on the heels of the Supreme Court’s 2011 decision in Brown v. Plata, “Proposition 47 is one of  handful of legislative efforts to reform the state’s prison system, which in a 2011 Supreme Court decision said was of one of the most crowded and costly in the country.  According to The Sentencing Project, ‘the decision in Brown v. Plata found the provision of health care in the California prison system to be constitutionally inadequate due to the severe overcrowding in the system; the state was required in reduce this figure to 137.5% of design capacity within two years.'” (source: Common Dreams

In an attempt to satisfy the court’s mandate, California has come up with measures in subsequent years to reach prison population levels that will pass constitutional muster.  AB109 was one such measure aimed at easing prison overcrowding and reducing populations to acceptable levels. Riverside County’s Grand Jury issued a report on its impact on our county, and consequences, both intended and unintended, in the fiscal year  2013-2014. As the report details,  some individuals are remanded to cities in the county from state prison and then released under the supervision of county directed  parole/probation departments. As the report states, while the intent of the law was to relieve over-crowding within state prisons, it  has imposed burdens on some cities and the county probation department.

These measures bring us to Proposition 47,  which as written allows for the reduction of non-violent, non-sexual offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.  Certain types of drugs convictions are also eligible for reclassification and resentencing allowing for less prison time and either county time or release.  This also applies to all property crimes where the dollar amount is less than $950.  What used to be a felony is now a misdemeanor. The expected and hoped for impact is a smaller prison population, less jail time and the savings of millions of dollars annually to the justice system.  Monies saved are ear-marked for truancy and drug prevention, victims’ services, mental health and drug abuse prevention costs according to Voter Information Guide provided by the California Secretary of State’s office.

The full impact of Proposition 47 is unclear as of this date. Supporters and detractors view the results differently. Those such as the LA Times feature writer, Sandy Banks, maintain that it is far too soon to make an accurate conclusion on what the results will be for this effort at sentencing reform and saved money.  However, the unintended consequences are already apparent, as the article points out.  Newly free narcotic addicts still commit crimes to support a habit and are now removed from the availability of rehabilitative services. And too, are less likely to be arrested now that their offense is a misdemeanor.

The law is often aspirational. We aim for what we believe will benefit our society as a whole.  However, the effects of a new law can often have unanticipated consequences. What do you think?  Should hard drug offenders still be incarcerated?  Is the property crime dollar amount of $950 an arbitrary figure?  Should a prosecutor have discretion in whether to charge a person with a felony or not?  These are the questions that we should be asking ourselves. Voters must have concluded that less prison time for certain types of offenses would be a good thing.  Certainly we will spend less if we are housing fewer inmates, with fewer guards, no new buildings and lowered health care costs.  These are the issues that the criminal justice system wrestles with. Read these articles carefully and become an active participant in this discussion.


By rcll

April 07, 2015

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