Proposition 47 Not Having Desired Effect

There has recently been a change in California law that makes certain property and drug crimes misdemeanors instead of felonies. According to Sheriff Jim McDonnell of Los Angeles County, this law has caused a rise in the crime rate. It has also, according to the sheriff, removed the incentive for those addicted to drug and alcohol to seek treatment.

Proposition 47 was passed by voters in November. The aim of the proposition was to reduce overcrowding in prisons. As such, penalties for crimes including petty theft, fraud, forgery, shoplifting, and some drug possession, have been lessened. In Los Angeles County alone, there has been an almost 3.5% increase in violent crime and a close to 7% increase in property crime. Enrollment in drug treatment programs in the county has dropped by 60%.

The proposition came closely on the heels of the state’s 2011 prison realignment law. That law transferred some inmates from state prisons into county jails in an attempt to eliminate the issue of overcrowding. The jails that are now holding these criminals are simply not equipped to do so.

Prior to the passage of Proposition 47, overcrowded prisons and jails were the reason that inmates were only serving 10 to 15% of their total sentences. After the transfers, inmates are serving close to their entire sentences, but the money for needed treatment services has dried up.

Another issue that has resulted because of the passing of the proposition is a less robust DNA database. Because those convicted under Prop 47 are not required to provide DNA samples, the database is not being built at as rapid a pace as it once was. A bill was put before the Senate Public Safety Committee ensuring that authorities would be able to continue to collect samples from those charged with crimes, even those charged under Prop 47. That bill died in committee.

According to Lenore Anderson, of the Californians for Safety and Justice, “Voters passed Proposition 47 because the old system was costly and failed to break the cycle of crime.”

Whether or not the proposition has the intended effect remains to be seen.

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