In my 34-year career in law enforcement, I have seen many misrepresentations of crime and criminal justice policies.
That practice, sadly, continues as California makes important, necessary changes to its justice systems. The most recent example is the column “Safety is about more than securing our borders” (Insight, Marcos Breton, July 15).
The column misrepresents the intent and impact of Proposition 47, a voter initiative Californians approved in November to change six low-level, nonviolent offenses from felony to misdemeanor punishments. I voted for Proposition 47 because it will reduce waste in a bloated prison system that has had a recidivism rate of 60 percent for decades.
Distortions of the law, and other necessary reforms, undermine critical conversations we must have about how to best pursue safety and justice.
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Here are the facts: Proposition 47 changed six felonies to misdemeanors, specifically: simple drug possession and low-level property crimes under $950 (shoplifting, writing a bad check, forgery, petty theft and receipt of stolen property). The measure excludes anyone with a previous sex offense or murder conviction from benefiting in any way.
That’s all. All other crimes can be charged exactly as before.
Another falsehood is that people committing Proposition 47 offenses cannot be arrested and jailed. Not true. Law enforcement has the same discretion as before to arrest and detain someone who commits a misdemeanor or felony. If they choose not to, that is a matter of local practice, not based on Proposition 47.
But especially surprising is when I hear officials or media long for old approaches. Our overinvestment in incarceration and underinvestment in strategies that address the drivers of crime – especially drug addiction and mental illness – created a revolving door in our jails and prisons.
This was incredibly expensive and bad for public safety. For years Sacramento and other counties were forced to release people convicted of serious and violent crimes early because of crowded jails. Now officials acknowledge that Proposition 47 has reduced crowding, allowing sheriffs to end the practice of early release for the most dangerous people.
And if someone is in prison or jail with a Proposition 47-eligible felony, they must petition a judge for resentencing. Under the proposition, there is no automatic release.
Finally, Proposition 47 will allocate savings from reduced incarceration to treatment and prevention programs.
That is what public safety – and voters – call for, not more politicized rhetoric about crime and justice.
Thomas G. Hoffman formerly served as deputy police chief of West Sacramento and director of the Adult Parole Division for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.