California Proposition 47

Proposition 47, the Reduced Penalties for some Crime Initiative, is currently on the November ballot in California. The initiative would reduce the classification of most “nonserious and nonviolent property and drug crimes” from a felony to a misdemeanor crime. These crimes include personal drug use, shoplifting, grand theft, receiving stolen property, forgery, fraud, writing a bad check, as long as the amount does not exceed $950. The proposition would also create a Safe Neighborhoods and Schools fund.

Supporters of the proposition, claim it will stop wasting prison space on low-level, nonviolent crimes, and protect public safety by focusing on violent and serious crimes, and direct savings to programs that help prevent crime. They also believe it will help reduce barriers that those with felony convictions face, such as finding employment and becoming more stable citizens of California. The savings from housing these prisoners would now go into funds for K-12 school programs, victim services, and mental health and drug treatment services.

The proposition would also look into about 10,000 current prisoners in the California prison system and evaluate if they are eligible for resentencing. Inmates are only allowed to be released if they do not have prior convictions of rape, murder, child molestation, or certain gun crimes.

Opponents of  Proposition 47 feel that it minimizes the scope of these types of crimes by reducing the penalty. For example, the California Police Chiefs Association notes that the proposition does not have higher punishments for multiple offenses. No matter how many times an offender has committed forgery, the punishment is still the same, as long as the amount is under $950.  In addition, they argue that because possession of certain drugs, such as methamphetamine and heroin, will no longer be a felony, there will be little incentive for offenders to enter treatment.

Opponents of the proposition are also fearful that dangerous inmates will be allowed back into society, because the scope of what is “harmful” is now smaller than before.

In September the proposition had a 62% backing and only 25% opposed in a poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California.