LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Among the measures California voters will decide Nov. 4 is Proposition 47, which would redefine some criminal penalties and could shorten sentences.
The proposition would reduce some nonviolent drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. It would reduce some property crimes, such as petty theft, receiving stolen property and forging or writing bad checks to misdemeanors as well, but it would allow for a felony sentence to be imposed for those crimes if the defendant has a prior conviction for a violent crime, like rape, murder or child molestation.
According to the state’s legislative analyst, the shorter sentences would reduce jail and prison overcrowding and save hundreds of millions of dollars. Under Prop. 47, that money would be spent on mental health and drug treatment programs, K-12 schools, and services for crime victims,
Susan Burton, the founder of A New Way Of Life, which helps and women coming out of prison, told CBS2 political reporter Dave Bryan that her life would have been very different if Prop. 47 has been in effect when she got into trouble.
“I wouldn’t have spent decades and decades in prison, in jails, for drug addiction,” Burton said.
But LaWanda Hawkins of Crime Victims United of California said Prop. 47 is not the answer.
“This is totally dangerous to public safety, so I say vote no on Proposition 47,” Hawkins told Bryan.
One wall in Hawkins’ office is filled with the photographs of crime victims, and she said Prop. 47 is fatally flawed.
“So, we’re going to say because we don’t have the room, we’re going to allow you to be out on the streets committing crimes, victimizing us,” Hawkins said. “No way.”
A long list of people and organizations oppose Prop. 47, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California District Attorneys Association, the California Police Chiefs Association, the California State Sheriffs Association, the California Fraternal Order of Police, and even the California Retail Association.
But Adela Barajas, who founded Life After Uncivil Ruthless Acts, an organization in South LA for kids and young adults, said Prop. 47 is a smart and effective plan to reform criminal sentencing.
“All of this ‘Put them all in prison, put them all in prison because that’s where they belong,’ and that’s how we’re going to care?” Barajas asked. ”Is that rehabilitating our community? Is that really bringing positive change? I think that’s contributing to the madness.”
Burton, meanwhile, said she searched for years to get help for her addiction, triggered by personal tragedy.
“My 5-year-old son was accidentally killed,” she said. “I medicated my grief, first with alcohol, and it escalated to drugs, and I stayed trapped in a cycle of incarceration for almost 20 years. That’s why I’m for Proposition 47. I know that prisons do not work.”