When Californians go to the polls this November they’ll be doing more than casting votes for politicians; they’ll be weighing in on Prop. 47, a ballot measure that proposes to lessen the penalties on certain felony crimes.

Prop. 47

Supporters say it’s a win-win for the state and the general public because it will improve public safety.

They also say it will help ease the burden at California jails and prisons, which have been struggling to deal with growing inmate populations without having the adequate bed space to hold them.

Another component of the ballot measure proposes diverting funds that would have been spent on incarcerating these people to school programs aimed at reducing truancy, drug abuse programs and jail mental health services.

Some believe that early crime prevention and intervention at schools could help reduce the number of kids who enter a life of crime and that treating drug addiction and mental illness will help keep those types of offenders out of county and state lock ups.  In theory, it could help reduce the number of people who wind up incarcerated.

Proposition 47 also moves to reduce certain nonviolent felony crimes to misdemeanor offenses.  These crimes include possession of small amounts of illegal drugs, grand theft of an item less than $950, shoplifting less than $950, check forgery and/or writing bad checks in amounts of less than $950 and receiving stolen property that is valued under $950.

Defendants who are currently sentenced on one of the above stated crimes under the three-strikes law would be allowed to petition to be re-sentenced and in some cases, released.  Corrections officials have estimated that up to 10,000 inmates could be eligible to for re-sentencing if the measure gets a nod from voters.

The ballot initiative is backed by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and former San Diego Police Department Chief William Lansdowne.

It’s also opposed by, pretty much every established law enforcement associations in the state.   They point out that most handguns are valued at less than $950; if Prop. 47 is passed that means stealing a gun will no longer be a felony offense.

Possession of narcotics such as ruhipnol, a well-known date rape drug, will also be reclassified as misdemeanor crime.

Although some estimate the state will save between $100 and $200 million each year on incarceration costs, opponents of Prop. 47 feel the risk it poses to the general pubic far outweighs the fiscal reward.

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