Prop. 47– one year later

In the past week there’s been a series of op-eds that have been published on both the merits and downfalls of Prop. 47.   The measure, otherwise known as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act was passed by voters in Nov. 2014–  the working theory is that if certain low-level drug and theft offenses were re-classified as misdemeanor crimes it would cut the incarceration rate and save millions of taxpayer dollars.

It would also decriminalize drug addiction, which a number of inmate advocates say is an illness, not a crime.  Locking low-level drug offenders (and by low-level, we’re talking about those who are arrested for things like simple possession as opposed to sales, trafficking and/or manufacturing) up and tossing the key does little to treat the underlying issue, they’ve argued, noting that many of these detainees were revolving-door inmates of the CA jail system; they’d get arrested, they’d be released, and they’d be back behind bars again in no time.

Those who drafted the bill felt a greater focus should be on rehabilitation– not incarceration, and today, being arrested for simple drug possession and  petty theft are not being held.  The arresting officers either write them a ticket that includes a mandatory court appearance or they’re being booked into the jails and being released OR within a few short hours.

Habitual offenders aren’t facing greater penalties– if someone consistently gets arrested for trying to steal less than $950 worth of goods, they’ll get the same slap on the wrist the 10th time they’re picked up as they did the first, second and third.

Opponents of Prop. 47 (which include just about every law enforcement agency in the state) point out there have been countless “unintended consequences” of its passage.

Property and burglary crimes are on the rise, they note, and some communities have seen a spike in violent crimes.   Ultimately, the behaviors that many drug addicts engage in to help support their habit are without penalty.  In San Bernardino County, for example, one sheriff’s deputy said when he caught someone who was shoplifting, the offender asked if he would need to be arrested since he had less than $950 worth of merchandise.

Police have said that some of these criminals have even started to carry calculators so they can make sure they don’t cross over that threshold.   So while some say that Prop. 47 added a much-needed level of compassion toward those who suffer from addiction, others feel it’s been to the detriment of public safety.

Were voters duped into passing a bad law?   That question, according to newspapers throughout the state, along with whether Prop. 47 should be revised or re-evaluated, has yet to be answered.

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