Proposition 47, The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, is a step towards making the California criminal justice system less unjust for some people. This proposition would reduce the classification certain non-serious and nonviolent property and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. It also calls for the consideration of re-sentencing those currently serving a sentence for the offenses changed to misdemeanors. However, if the defendant has prior convictions for murder or rape, or is a registered sex offender, that person either may not eligible or is not eligible for reduced classification of the new lesser crime.
While we call for a “yes” vote on Proposition 47, we recognize some problems in the way it will affect both defendants and those already in prison for the newly recategorized offenses. As noted above, not all defendants are treated equally for the same offense, even if the new offense is not a violent crime and the person has served a complete sentence for any prior acts. And there is no reason to increase a sentence for a registered sex offender for a petty crime that is not a sex crime. To add to the inequality, the proposition makes a distinction between some crimes for which a certain category of people “may” not be eligible for reduced classification of the new offense and others for which they will not get any consideration at all.
Although Proposition 47 calls for reconsideration of sentencing for those already incarcerated for the newly recategorized crime, that reconsideration is far from guaranteed. Prisoners in California face an array of obstacles, from overcrowded conditions to discrimination by prison staff, which might keep them from being deemed eligible for reduced sentencing. It is possible that the threat of not having a sentence reduced might be used to detrimental effect inside the prison.
Although it is opposed by many law enforcement officials, this bill was written by a district attorney and a former police chief. Their stated goal is to replace most imprisonment of nonviolent offenders with community supervision and/or placement in residential and daycare programs for the treatment of mental health and drug treatment programs. This would result in savings of state corrections dollars possibly ranging from $150 million to $250 million annually.
We notice that the majority of the savings is earmarked back to the Department of Corrections which will control its use. Twenty-five percent is to go to the State Department of Education to administer a grant program to public agencies aimed at improving outcomes for public school students, K-12 inclusive, by reducing truancy and supporting students who are at risk of dropping out of school or are victims of crime. Ten percent is to go to the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board to make grants to trauma recovery centers to provide services to victims of crimes. Sixty-five percent is to go to the Board of State and Community Corrections to administer a grant program to public agencies aimed at supporting mental health treatment, substance abuse programs for people in the criminal justice system that will reduce recidivism of people convicted of nonviolent crimes. Not more than five percent is to go to administrative costs.
The Peace and Freedom Party is committed to the end of the prison-industrial complex, and civil rights and humane treatment for all human beings. We call for a vote for Proposition 47 as a way to keep people out of California’s prisons, where they are more likely to suffer abuse than they are to become rehabilitated. We are concerned that the provision which rules out individuals with certain prior convictions is fundamentally unjust, and that most of those already in prison for the reclassified crimes will not receive the benefit. We would prefer that the savings be administered by an agency independent of the Department of Corrections. We urge all those concerned with this issue to continue to work for a complete overhaul of the prison system and the social and economic system that perpetuates it.