Come November, California voters will get the opportunity to vote yes on Proposition 47. The proposed legislation would be beneficial for everyone — residents, defendants, and inmates. As a criminal defense lawyer, I get to see everyday how our criminal justice system needs urgent reform.
A short while ago, the United States Supreme Court ordered that California lower its prison population. The harsh three-strikes law implemented 20 years ago led to a surge in incarceration. Also troublesome was the severity of non-violent crimes like: petty theft, fraud, forgery, and most drug crimes.
The proposition on the ballot will help allay some of these problems. First, it will mandate that a large amount of non-violent crimes be charged as a misdemeanor instead of a felony. This will ensure that individuals involved in a theft, in an amount under $950, and other individuals involved in personal drug crimes, will not face prison time. They will face jail time instead.
Reclassifying some felonies to misdemeanor will help but Proposition 47 does more. It will directly allow already incarcerated individuals apply for relief if they are eligible. Thus, those individuals already in prison for possibly stealing an item less than $950, and where violence was not involved, could be released. This will alleviate some overcrowding.
The savings derived from the release of inmates will benefit the community at large. Money from the budget will not go towards overcrowded prisons. Instead, all of the savings will be used for mental health programs in California. People who have struggled with substance abuse will be able to seek out help. Those that need counseling will receive it. These preventive measures do far more than mass incarceration to decrease recidivism.
Opponents cannot claim that Proposition 47 will lead to more violence because the reforms will only impact those who are involved in a non-violent crime. Further, the proponents of the reform make some great arguments, both legal and moral.
One of the biggest backers of Proposition 47 is a conservative Christian who believes in redemption and forgiveness. He was encouraged by prison ministries, a non-profit organization founded by Chuck Colson to help inmates readjust to non-prison life. Mr. B. Wayne Hughes Jr. wants to use his wealth to do good for those who are trying to change their lives for the better.
I encourage you to vote yes on Proposition 47. Further, if you want a consultation with respect to a criminal charge that may be impacted by this legislation, I welcome your calls.