Pubdate: Tue, 11 Nov 2014
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Note: Seldom prints LTEs from outside it's circulation area.


Here's an unfortunate but realistic prediction: Six months from now, 
a year at most, Californians will look at a troubling new wave of 
crime and ask, "What happened?" Here's what happened: Last week's 
voter approval of Proposition 47 on top of Gov. Jerry Brown's 
prison-realignment program approved by the Legislature in 2011.

Together, these two public policies will be responsible for the early 
release of thousands of criminals now behind prison bars, including 
some serving life sentences under the state's three-strikes law. 
Thousands more who commit new crimes, and who would have faced prison 
or jail time before Proposition 47, will now continue to walk the streets.

Many of these people will be drug offenders. Prosecutors who 
previously could hold the threat of incarceration over the head of 
drug abusers as a tool to force them into treatment will no longer 
have that tool available. Many more drug abusers who want to get into 
already crowded treatment programs will find it even more difficult 
to find a program that can take them.

Proposition 47 was the well-intentioned idea of former San Diego 
Police Chief Bill Lansdowne and San Francisco District Attorney 
George Gascon. Their argument was that criminals convicted of certain 
nonviolent offenses, particularly drug crimes, belong in treatment 
programs, not prison.

To achieve that, Prop. 47 reduced six categories of nonviolent crimes 
from a felony to a misdemeanor. It provides that criminals now in 
prison for such crimes can petition for immediate release. And it 
says that savings stemming from the reduced state prison population, 
an estimated $100 million to $200 million a year, must be divvied up 
among mental health and drug abuse programs, school truancy and 
dropout programs and the state crime victims compensation fund.

Sadly, there are many ways that the specifics of the initiative fail 
its good intentions.

Of perhaps most concern is the provision that automatically 
recategorizes the theft of a gun worth less than $950 from a felony 
to a misdemeanor. As current San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman 
says, nearly all handguns retail for less than $950. "People don't 
steal guns so they can add to their gun collection," she said. "They 
steal guns to commit another crime."

The simple possession of date-rape drugs, previously a felony, is now 
a misdemeanor, potentially undermining laws combating sexual violence.

The money earmarked for mental health and drug treatment programs 
will not materialize for probably a year and, when it does show up, 
it will be a relative pittance for a state the size of California. 
Besides, Prop. 47 does not mandate that drug abusers even seek 
treatment. Addicts who cannot get or do not want treatment tend to 
commit more crimes to get money to buy more drugs.

Police and prosecutors throughout the state are said to be busily 
trying to figure out how to deal with Prop. 47. Wish them luck.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom