In 2014, California voters passed Proposition 47, which reclassifies certain crimes as a misdemeanor rather than a felony. The change meant several things. Firstly, it allowed some individuals charged with drug possession offenses and certain theft offenses to face lesser charges. It also meant that anyone serving a jail sentence at the time the law was passed could petition the courts to have their sentences reduced.
The change was a positive one that allowed many people to retain their freedom. However, now some are calling it the cause of California’s current crime problem.
According to statistics from the California Department of Justice and the FBI, in the three years after Proposition 47 was passed, California saw a 12 percent jump in crime rates. Most of those crimes were violent in nature including rape, robbery, aggravated assault, and murder. So, is Prop 47 really to blame for these new stats?
“The idea that Proposition 47 is to blame for the recent increase in crime rates in California is a little unreasonable,” says Jo-Anna Nieves of The Nieves Law Firm. “Defendants accused of committing these violent crimes are not even eligible for lighter sentencing under Proposition 47. So, how could that law be to blame?”
The argument for blaming Prop 47 seems to rest on the grounds that people know they will not face harsh sentences and so, there is no deterrent to committing crimes. That is just not the case, though.
Prop 47 did not eliminate all punishments, it simply reduced them for crimes that were not violent in nature. In addition, a person is only eligible for Proposition 47 reduced sentencing once. If they re-offend, they will face harsh penalties and that is certainly a deterrent.
Some responded to the criticism of Prop 47 by highlighting the fact that Proposition 47 has only been in place for four years. That is just not enough data to determine how California’s crime rates compare with those of years past. Others point to a recent study done by the University of California indicating there was no link between Proposition 47 and the increased crime rates.
Whether or not Proposition 47 is contributing to crime is something that only time will tell.