California approves penalty reduction for some low level crimes
California approves penalty reduction for some low level crimes

[JURIST] California voters on Tuesday approved Proposition 47 [text, PDF], a ballot initiative reducing the penalties associated with certain low-level drug and property crimes, receiving 58 percent voter approval [state poll results]. Under the measure, crimes related to possession of drugs for personal use and theft of property worth $950 or less are to be charged as misdemeanors unless the defendant has prior convictions for certain serious crimes. Individuals currently serving sentences for the newly adjusted offenses will be able to petition the court to have their sentence reduced. California Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s [official website] office expects [Legislative Analyst Office voter guide] Proposition 47 to affect around 40,000 offenders annually. The projected savings [AP report], totaling in the hundreds of millions of dollars, will be used to fund school programs and mental health and drug treatment.

This measure comes at a time when California is still adjusting [JURIST report] to a 2011 plan [Stanford Law backgrounder] to reduce [JURIST report] the state’s prison population by over 30,000 inmates. Proponents of Proposition 47, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, argue [advocacy websites] that the reform will improve schools, victim services, and health treatment centers by prioritizing funds to prevent only the most serious crimes. Opponents, including the California Police Chiefs Association [advocacy group], state [advocacy website] that the measure includes multiple oversights such as reducing penalties for possession of predatory drugs and theft of a firearm worth less than $950.