In recent years, California has passed several laws that essentially give people who are convicted of low-level crimes a second chance.
It all started when California voters approved Prop. 47 in 2014, which reclassified several drug, theft, property and other non-violent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. Other reforms soon followed, including changes to the Three Strikes law, realignment of the prison system, and expansion of parole opportunities under Prop. 57. Since these reforms took effect, California has reduced its prison population by nearly 20 percent.
Recently, a group of lawmakers in Sacramento decided that California has reformed too many criminal justice laws. The result is the “Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act,” a proposed ballot initiative that would undo many of the criminal justice reforms approved over the past few years.
What The Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act Would Do
The aim of the Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act is to roll back some of the criminal justice reforms that have taken effect in California over the past few years. For example, one thing the act would do is create a three strikes program for theft offenses in which a third theft crime conviction would carry up to one year in jail in addition to the sentence for the crime itself.
Additionally, the act would require parole boards to review an inmate’s entire criminal record when deciding whether to grant the inmate early release.
The proposed law would also expand DNA collection to non-violent offenses, such as drug and theft crimes. Proponents of the act believe that doing so will lead to more convictions in unsolved crimes and potentially clear people who have been wrongly accused or convicted.
If enough signatures are obtained, the initiative could be on the ballot for next year’s election.
Is Rolling Back Prison Reform Necessary?
The authors of this proposed ballot initiative claim that violent crime and repeat theft offenses are on the rise in California. They cite a 69.5 percent increase in violent crime in Los Angeles since 2013 and a spike in violent crime in Sacramento in 2015 that was the fastest increase among the 25 largest cities in the country. However, no reports, studies or surveys are cited to back up these claims.
In reality, data that is currently available indicates that crime is up in some parts of the state and down in others. The Los Angeles Times reported that homicides have risen for the last three years in L.A., from a low of 251 in 2013 to last year’s total of 294. Non-fatal shootings increased by 6 percent from 2015 and 23 percent from 2014. However, these numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Crime has been trending down over the last 10 years. There were nearly 200 fewer homicides in 2016 than in 2005. In terms of the crime rate in other parts of the state, cities like San Francisco and Oakland saw an overall drop in crime by 10 percent and 6 percent over a 10-year period, respectively.
Alex Johnson, managing director of Californians for Safety and Justice, calls the proposal “misguided.” He explained that it is unlikely that the recent reforms in sentencing laws are responsible for increases in crime.
“Criminologists will tell you increasing homelessness, the economy, policing — all impact crime more than state sentencing laws,” said Johnson.
Has California Reformed the Criminal Justice System Too Much?
The criminal justice system in California is ever changing, and recent reform has aimed to reduce the prison population by giving lighter sentences to offenders who may not represent a danger to society. While the result has been that California has cut its inmate population, not everyone has been happy with criminal justice reform.
What do you think about California’s recent trend of giving more lenient sentences in order to reduce the prison population? Would you vote on a law that would give out harsher sentences to those convicted of non-violent crimes?
We want to hear from you. Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.