California voters have spoken. In passing Proposition 47 , they have made it clear that unfair laws were on the books and it is time to release some of the more than 117,000 inmates currently held in the California prison system , specifically, non-violent offenders. Estimates are that more than 10,000 inmates will be released as it is implemented.
Not everyone is celebrating. In a report by KCRA Sacramento Channel 3, the group Crime Victims United is working to have the proposition appealed. The founder of the organization, it should be noted, was not affected by a low level crime, but had a family member who was murdered. Sentences for murder convictions were not affected by proposition 47.
The KCRA report also highlights the fact that one of the provisions of Prop 47 is funding for rehabilitation and mental health programs, which will not go into effect for more than a year. The current system may not be equipped to handle the influx of former prisoners in need of these services.
A media release on the Sacramento County Sherriff’s Department website is circulating through the City of Elk Grove neighborhood watch groups. The memo details how:
Effective immediately, the passage of Proposition 47 will have the following effects on the custody and policing practices of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.
It explains that felons can have sentences reduced and certain civil rights reinstated and that certain crimes will no longer be cause for arrest, but these offenders will receive a citation with a promise to appear in court for sentencing.
The tenor of the memo is a warning to the community of fearful consequences.
It should be noted that although they will no longer be classified as a felony these offenses will still be punishable as misdemeanors .
According to the California Penal Code :
A misdemeanor is a crime punishable by imprisonment in a county or city jail or detention facility not to exceed one year. Except where the law specifies a different punishment, a misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding six months and/or a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars. However, many misdemeanor offenses specifically list a punishment that exceeds the punishment listed in Penal Code section 19. For example, a misdemeanor violation of Battery on a Peace Officer is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year and/or a two thousand dollar fine.
A felony is a more serious crime that can be punished by death or imprisonment in a state prison. A person convicted of a felony can also be granted probation instead of a prison sentence. If a person is granted probation, the court can impose many conditions on a grant of probation, including up to one year in county jail, money fines up to the maximum allowed by state law, and restitution to the victim for actual losses. In addition, the court may impose other conditions as long as the conditions are reasonably related to the defendant’s crime, or to future criminality.
Reduction of sentencing is not elimination of sentencing, which is what the Sherriff’s memo implies.
The eventual increase in funding for rehabilitation and mental health service (which Prop 47 provides) give the added benefit of helping low level offenders to transition to productive members of society, something that harsh prison sentences are not designed to do.
Could this be a sign of a return to a criminal justice system that is more focused on rehabilitation rather than punishment and restoration rather than retribution?
Maybe California has nothing to fear but fear itself.