California Proposition 47: Criminal Sentences Nov. 2014

The Question

Should the penalties for certain offenders convicted of non-serious, nonviolent crimes be reduced from felonies to misdemeanors?

The Situation

The California Penal Code classifies a felony as the most serious crime with some felonies graded as “violent” or “serious,” and some, such as murder and rape, graded as both. Felonies not classified as violent or serious include grand theft and possession of illegal drugs. Felony convictions result in incarceration for at least one year, usually in a prison facility rather than a county or local jail.

After release, felony offenders are supervised by either state parole agents or county probation officers, depending on the severity of the conviction. Misdemeanors are less serious crimes, such as petty theft and public drunkenness, that usually result in fines, community supervision, and/or incarceration for less than one year in a county or local jail rather than a prison facility. Some crimes, called “wobblers,” such as check forgery, can be charged as either felonies or misdemeanors, depending on the offender’s history and the details of the crime.

The Proposal

Prop. 47 would reduce the penalty for most nonviolent wobblers and felonies to misdemeanors, unless the defendant has prior convictions for violent and serious crimes. Prop. 47 would permit resentencing for anyone currently serving a prison sentence for any of the offenses reclassified in Prop. 47 as misdemeanors, and certain offenders who have already completed a sentence for one of those felonies may apply to the court to have their convictions changed to misdemeanors.

State savings from Prop. 47 would go to a newly created fund, “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund,” for truancy and drop-out prevention programs in schools, victims’ services, and mental health and drug treatment services designed to keep individuals out of prison and jail.

Fiscal Effect

The net state savings as a result of Prop. 47 are estimated to be in the low hundreds of millions of dollars annually based on fewer prisoners eligible for prison sentences and the release of current inmates through resentencing. County cost savings are estimated to be several hundred million dollars annually, primarily due to freeing up jail capacity and having fewer people under community supervision.

A YES Vote Means

A YES vote on this measure means: Criminal offenders who commit certain non-serious and nonviolent drug and property crimes would be sentenced to reduced penalties (such as shorter terms in jail). State savings resulting from the measure would be used to support school truancy and dropout prevention, victim services, mental health and drug abuse treatment, and other programs designed to keep offenders out of prison and jail.

A NO Vote Means

A NO vote on this measure means: Penalties for offenders who commit certain non-serious and nonviolent drug and property crimes would not be reduced.

Supporters Say

  • Prop. 47 will reduce prison spending and waste on low-level nonviolent crimes. Law enforcement resources will be focused on violent and serious crimes.
  • Savings will be redirected from prison spending to K-12 school programs, assistance for victims of crime, mental health programs, and drug treatment.

Californians for Safe Neighborhoods and Schools:

Opponents Say

  • Prop. 47 will release thousands of dangerous inmates; it prevents judges from blocking the early release of prisoners except in rare cases.
  • Prop. 47 will burden our criminal justice system; it will overcrowd jails with felons who should be in state prison and jam the courts with resentencing hearings.