Pubdate: Sat, 01 Nov 2014
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Note: Seldom prints LTEs from outside it's circulation area.
Author: Dan Walters


Crime - or the fear of crime - dominated California's politics for a 
quarter-century. Proposition 47, which would reduce punishment for 
some crimes, tests whether that era has passed.

During its heyday, Republicans rode the crime issue hard and 
successfully, such as the 1982 election of Republican George 
Deukmejian, a death penalty champion, as governor.

Democrats felt the backlash, such as Jerry Brown's failing bid for 
the Senate in 1982 and the ouster of Brown appointee Rose Bird and 
two other anti-death penalty state Supreme Court justices in 1986.

There was some factual basis for the issue's dominance.

California's crime rate rose sharply during the 1970s and hit a peak 
about 1980. Several particularly heinous crimes added fuel, such as 
the kidnapping and murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas by a newly released felon.

Voters responded with a "three strikes and you're out" law to keep 
more felons behind bars, capping more than a decade of tough 
lock-'em-up laws by legislators scared of being branded soft on 
crime. They packed prisons with tens of thousands of new inmates, far 
over their designed capacity.

The crime rate, meanwhile, was declining, but even so remained a 
potent political factor into the first decade of the 21st century.

The second decade, however, has seen a reversal. Overall, the state's 
politics have trended leftward, and with that, support for the death 
penalty and other tough-on-crime laws has diminished.

Federal judges, meanwhile, have ordered that the state reduce prison 
overcrowding. Three years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators 
responded with realignment, under which those convicted of low-level 
felonies are diverted into local jails and probation, rather than 
prison, thus reducing inmate populations via attrition.

Concurrently, probation and parole officials lightened up on released 
felons, reducing the numbers who go back in prison.

Legislators have mulled a broader rewrite of criminal laws, either 
directly or through a "sentencing commission," to revise what was 
wrought during the state's political crime wave.

Proposition 47 would short-circuit that process by downgrading some 
property and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and allowing 
those already behind bars for those crimes - as many as 10,000 - to 
seek sentence reductions.

It was financed primarily by a few wealthy people, particularly 
financier George Soros, but the American Civil Liberties Union added 
$3.5 million last week.

Many police and prosecutor groups oppose it, but are unable to raise 
more than token campaign funds.

A new Public Policy Institute of California poll found that 59 
percent of voters support Proposition 47. If it passes, it will close 
the books on crime as a powerful political issue in California.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom