Pubdate: Wed, 26 Aug 2015
Source: Chico Enterprise-Record (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Chico Enterprise-Record
Note: Letters from newspaper's circulation area receive publishing priority
Author: Thomas Elias


The more time goes by since last fall's passage of the high-minded 
Proposition 47, the more it begins to look like a well-intentioned mistake.

This was the ballot measure that turned some "minor" felonies into 
misdemeanor crimes, thus easing the crowding in state prisons and 
many county jails. It has unquestionably helped some ex-felons 
rebuild their lives.

But as crime statistics for the first half of this year pour in from 
around the state, this measure looks worse and worse, on balance. The 
numbers are bearing out warnings Proposition 47 opponents made in 
their official ballot argument against the initiative before it 
passed by a whopping 60-40 percent margin.

"Proposition 47 is a dangerous ... package of ill-conceived policies 
wrapped in a poorly drafted initiative which will endanger all 
Californians," said opponents, led by Citrus Heights Police Chief 
Christopher Boyd, president of the California Police Chiefs Association.

Here's a bit of what's happened since passage: In San Francisco, car 
burglaries are up 47 percent this year over 2014, while car thefts 
have risen 17 percent and robberies rose by 23 percent. In Los 
Angeles, overall crime is up 12.7 percent this year and violent crime 
rose almost 21 percent. That's after 12 straight years of crime 
decreases in the state's largest city.

Some saw Proposition 47 as a mere expansion on Gov. Jerry Brown's 
prison "realignment" program, designed to reduce prison populations 
at the demand of federal judges up to the level of the U.S. Supreme 
Court. Convicts on a de facto basis were already seeing sentences 
reduced or being shifted from tougher state prisons to county jails. 
Many lesser offenders who might previously have gotten at least some 
jail time were going free on probation. Prior to Proposition 47, this 
had cut the prison population by almost one-fifth.

But the initiative does much more than mere realignment, switching 
many crimes from the felony category to misdemeanors. This includes 
most drug possession arrests, petty thefts, forged checks and 
receiving stolen property, with property crimes having to exceed $950 
to be a felony. One result: Many drug addicts have adjusted their 
practices, trying to hold their thefts to "minor" crimes under that 
amount. Because of crowding in local jails, it's common for 
misdemeanor offenders to be turned loose soon after their convictions.

Proposition 47 supporters also touted the fact their measure allows 
all those crimes to be treated as felonies if the accused has 
previous convictions for rape, murder or child molestation or is a 
registered sex offender.

Not enough, said the opponents, noting that people with prior 
convictions for armed robbery, carjacking, child abuse, assault with 
a deadly weapon and other serious crimes would still be allowed 
misdemeanor status for new nonviolent offenses. They pointed out that 
thousands of convicts who stood to be released because their crimes 
would be converted into misdemeanors have prior records of violent 
crimes not listed among the most dangerous.

At the same time, many convict firefighters (about 40 percent of 
crews battling major fires in California are convicts) have been 
released because of reductions in the category of their crimes.

Prison-provided fire crews nevertheless retained the same manpower as 
last year during the early blazes of this wildfire season. No one yet 
knows if in-prison recruiting of some new firefighters will produce 
the same quality of work.

Proposition 47 also earmarked much of the prison money it saves for 
mental health and drug treatment programs. But enrollment in drug 
treatment programs has dropped, probably a sign that many addicts no 
longer feel pressured to kick their habits. They know they'll never 
do significant time either for using or for most crimes that support 
their addictions.

On balance, Proposition 47 is turning out to be bad policy. Now it's 
time for legislators to do what they can to fix the flawed measure. A 
start would be increasing the list of serious prior offenses than can 
turn the new "minor" crimes back into felonies.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom