California Law Sees Release of Prisoners

Open a newspaper, get on the Internet or turn on the television on any given day and you may be faced with the knowledge that America’s prison system is over-taxed. Prisons designed to hold hundreds are holding thousands. Prisons designed to hold thousands are holding thousands too many.

In California, Proposition 47 has taken aim at eliminating prison over-population and, according to officials, it is working.

In February 2014, the federal court of California set a cap for prisoner population at 113,722. Today, the population is below that cap thanks to Prop 47. According to Jeffrey Beard, chief of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the proposition has been integral in controlling population numbers since its inception.

Before the proposition was introduced, the state’s prisoner population was at or above 117,600. The state was tasked with bringing that number down by almost 4,000. The population was decreased, and fell under the cap, almost a year ahead of the deadline. How?

As part of the proposition, many drug possession crimes that had previously been considered felonies were reduced to misdemeanors. This, in turn, reduced the amount of time, if any, those convicted could be sentenced to jail time. Also in the proposition is the requirement to sentence receiving stolen property, writing bad checks and petty theft as misdemeanors when those cases involved $950 or less.

Although the proposition did not automatically reduce or commute sentences of those already convicted, it did allow those people to seek resentencing hearings and often eliminated the remainder of their sentences. This alone has put thousands of people back on the streets.

Many members of the public do not hear the whole story. Media thrives on headlines suggesting thousands of dangerous prisoners have been released on the streets to wreak havoc on the innocent public. The truth is that the people being released are those that have committed minor or white collar crimes and are, typically, not dangerous to anyone.

It remains to be seen whether the release of prisoners will continue. All in all, the release is a good thing on many levels. When prisoners are released, tax payers are no longer forced to pay for their incarceration. Instead, that money can be poured into treatment programs and prevention initiatives that can help stop crimes before they occur.

The trick will be keeping inmate numbers under the cap. While the proposition is a step in the right direction, there must be a way to keep people out of prison. Whether that occurs because of anti-crime measures, new sentencing guidelines, or treatment programs remains to be seen.

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