Pubdate: Tue, 30 Sep 2014
Source: Fresno Bee, The (CA)
Copyright: 2014 The Fresno Bee
Note: Does not publish letters from outside their circulation area.


Proposition 47, which would reduce penalties for certain nonviolent 
crimes and drug offenses, could hurt public safety.

In recent years, Gov. Jerry Brown, legislators and voters have 
approved far-reaching changes to California's criminal justice system 
and cut the prison population.

Now, 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.

We 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.

Additionally, 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 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 analyst says Proposition 47 could save hundreds of millions of 
dollars that otherwise would be spent incarcerating criminals. But 
the analyst also says "the fiscal effects of the measure ... are 
subject to significant uncertainty."

As it is, people who are convicted of minor crimes such as 
shoplifting or drug possession don't go to state prison, unless they 
have records that include convictions for serious or violent crimes.

Proposition 47 would change that. Under Proposition 47, people who 
commit petty crimes would be sent to prison if they have records of 
homicide or sex crimes, but not for many other serious crimes such as 
armed robbery, carjacking, residential burglary, or assault with a 
deadly weapon.

The change is unnecessary. Prosecutors already have the discretion to 
charge repeat felons with felonies or misdemeanors for minor crimes.

The initiative's backers include San Francisco District Attorney 
George Gascon, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, the 
American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, California 
Democratic Party and various philanthropists.

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. 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 

We don't doubt that some people in prison could live peaceably on the 
outside, and that some sentences are too long. The Bee 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.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom