Bill Watch

Nov. 2020 Ballot Measure Weakening CA Justice Reforms Would Harm Communities of Color, Stuff Prisons, and Cost Up to $450 Million Per Year, Says Report

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

A measure on California’s November ballot aimed at diluting some of the last decade’s most prominent criminal justice reform laws — Public Safety Realignment, Proposition 47, and Proposition 57 — would have a disproportionately negative impact on communities of color, increase police spending, and put more people behind bars by increasing criminal penalties, according to a new analysis by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

For those unfamiliar, in 2011, to address extreme prison overcrowding, California passed the Realignment Act (AB 109), shifting the incarceration burden for certain low-level offenders away from the overburdened California state prison system to the states’ 58 counties.

Money saved from Realignment is goes toward local corrections, juvenile justice programs, courts, and mental health services.

Next came 2014’s voter-approved Proposition 47, which downgraded six low-level drug and property-related felonies and “wobblers” to misdemeanors. (Prop. 47 offenses are check forgery worth $950 or less, theft of property worth $950 or less, writing bad checks worth $950 or less, receiving stolen property worth $950 or less, shoplifting property worth $950 or less, and drug possession.)

The measure, which was applied retroactively, has changed the lives of tens of thousands of Californians who are no longer saddled with felony records.

Money saved by Prop. 47 goes toward mental health services and drug rehab programs for criminal justice system-involved people, efforts to reduce truancy and help at-risk students, and for victims services. Prop. 47 saved the state an estimated $68 million in its first year, and approximately $350 million over five years.

The newest law, 2016’s Proposition 57, increased parole eligibility for people convicted of certain crimes who have completed the base sentence for their primary offense. Prop. 57 also boosts access to early release credits, and allows judges, rather than prosecutors, to decide whether kids will be tried in adult court.

These three laws have helped to save the state millions of dollars that would have otherwise been spent on incarceration, while also allowing California to stay below a federal court-mandated prison population cap of 137.5 percent capacity. At the same time, overall crime rates in California continue to remain at record lows.

The November 2020 measure, titled the California Criminal Sentencing, Parole, and DNA Collection Initiative of 2020 — formerly known as the Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act — would reverse key portions of the three laws.

Specifically, the measure add 51 crimes and sentence enhancements to the state’s legal definition of violent crime, which currently does not include felony domestic violence, child sex trafficking, rape of an unconscious person, or felony assault with a deadly weapon.

Recategorizing these offenses and enhancements as violent would block people convicted of those specific crimes from accessing the early parole benefits of Prop. 57.

The act would also create a third-strike factor within probation law, requiring probation departments to petition a judge to send a person to jail if they violate the terms of their probation a third time.

With regard to Prop. 47, the ballot initiative would make certain types of thefts, like firearm theft, vehicle theft, and credit card fraud, “wobblers” that can be charged as felonies or misdemeanors. It would also require people convicted of wobblers and Prop. 47’s former wobblers to submit DNA samples for inclusion in law enforcement databases.

Additionally, state law would have two new wobbler crime categories: serial crime and organized retail crime.

Proposition 47 has faced criticism over increases in certain property crimes that followed in the wake of the proposition’s passage, but the report authors argue that .

In 2018, researchers from the Public Policy Institute of California found what appeared to be a correlation between Prop. 47 and upticks in larceny. The measure did not, however, factor into the state’s short-term bump in violent crime, according to PPIC.

“While crime declined overall during the justice reform era, local jurisdictions experienced widely varying crime trends,” the CJCJ report states. “Most cities saw decreases in crime, while others reported increases, indicating that local policies, not statewide reforms, are driving trends.”

Moreover, the earlier PPIC report revealed that Prop. 47 appeared to have contributed to a reduction in recidivism in California, while also lowering the prison and jail populations.

The state’s prison population declined by 8,100 inmates (6 percent) in 2015. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated that Prop. 47 was responsible for 4,700 of the 8,100-person drop.

Additionally, there were approximately 7,000 fewer inmates in county jails in the first year.

The data shows that officers arrested fewer people overall after Prop. 47, but also conducted more “cite and releases,” in which a person is arrested, given a citation, and then released, rather than taken to jail.

According to report authors Mike Males and Maureen Washburn, the 2020 ballot measure would cost the state between $150 million and $450 million per year — money that would be spent on law enforcement and incarceration, leaving less money for rehabilitation and community programs and services already facing questionable futures amid the economic downturn. Counties, too, would be hit by higher incarceration needs. CJCJ estimates that Los Angeles would have to spend an additional $30,782,968 to $97,587,79 per year on probation and jail needs — more than any other county — if voters pass the ballot initiative this November.

The measure would reverse much of the work California has done to reduce overcrowding in jails and prisons (which are still filled far above capacity in 2020), and would also likely increase recidivism rates, according to the report.

“State prisons have already reported serious COVID-19 outbreaks,” Males said. “This initiative would crowd prisons and jails, putting incarcerated people in even closer quarters, with potentially deadly consequences.”

In California’s 35 prison facilities, 18 incarcerated people and 2 prison workers have already died of the virus. More than 3,800 have tested positive, so far, with infection numbers that keep rising, week after week.

The act would “devastate families and communities, particularly communities of color, by incarcerating more Californians and erecting lifelong barriers to education, housing, and employment,” the report said.

In California, people with felonies on their records face approximately 4,800 restrictions on daily life.

“California is beginning to correct its role in mass incarceration by moving investments from an overbuilt justice system towards long-term, community-based solutions, said Washburn, CJCJ’s policy analyst. This initiative would cut progress short and harm Californians — especially Black, Indigenous, and Latino communities—for generations to come.”


  • Stop with the COVID is killing prisoners routine.
    0.5% of infected in prisons are dying!
    That’s a tremendously low number.
    Incarcerated thugs have a better chance of being killed by each other than COVID.
    So stop.
    The whining and crying is tired out.
    It’s easy to be a social justice special operator until you’re victimized by those you think you’re helping.
    Then, there aren’t enough prisons.

  • Maybe the author would like to have some of her pet justice involved prisoners paroled to her neighborhood. Better yet, she could sponsor a few while they live at her house.

  • “It’s easy to be a social justice special operator until you’re victimized by those you think you’re helping”. Villanueva helping creepy Carl Mandoyan to circumvent the process to become a Deputy would be a perfect example of this. Mandoyan was his “Special Operator”.

  • This is what’s wrong with idiots like you Taylor and your boss. You actually believe Child sex trafficking, rape of an unconscious person, felony domestic violence and assault with a deadly weapon aren’t violent felonies. WTF is wrong with you people? You have no empathy for the victims of these heinous crimes, only for those who commit them. You are disgusting and pathetic to have a mindset that can think that way.
    Oh, try using spelling and grammar check, a high school student could have submitted a better piece of work than you did.

  • Prop 47 did not reduce crime. Much crime went unreported as simply a cost and of doing business. As these cost have risen, people are going back to a tough on crime approach. What this means is that rehabilitation programs in State Prisons and in Counties have failed. Audits of CDCR programs have clearly demonstrated these failures. SJWs need to get busy building programs that actually work. This has been the true failure of criminal justice reform. Perhaps if BLM, Dignity and Power…. and all the other alleged reform groups actually focused on holding the agencies and administrators leading programs responsible perhaps we would get somewhere. But we all realize screaming BLM and defund police is a lot easier than building an alternative. Failure with these only lead to accusations that systemic racism are so bad these programs fail. If you give us even more money, we will one day be successful.

  • The plain and simple truth is that the lot of society is IGNORANT to how the inner workings of prison (CDCR) actually functions. Take it from someone who has been incarcerated. Granted, many of us deserve to be placed behind walls and cut off from the privileges of every day life. I don’t think the majority of the ACCOUNTABLE ones would argue that fact. However, the question or rather the discrepancy has always been in the sentencing guidelines. And the percentages that the state removes from your term based on your controlling case. We, ourselves have wondered for years how a person of color can commit a robbery in which no one was physically harmed and receive a base term of 2 years PLUS an additional 10 year enhancement. And to add to that, he must complete 85% of that sentence. All as his FIRST offense.. No probation. No alternative sentencing measures,such as military, community progression programs, etc,… Nothing! But a white male can rape a woman, and receive 8 years. He is then deemed as nonviolent and must complete only 50% of his term..
    Furthermore, the PEOPLE in here MATTER.. Mistakes are made. Debts to society are owed and PAID. But for those who have never made a mistake so severe that it leads to a unfortunate stint inside of a cell, to carry the entitled,snobbish,and increasingly condescending attitude that they are simply just BETTER and that those behind the walls should be meant to suffer at the hands of a disease like covid that the CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS and PRISON STAFF introduced into an institution is asinine.. Everyone is innocent until the day they or their family member F’s up.. Then you sing a different tune.. It’s time to STOP ostracism of the people that made mistakes that many would gladly own up to and take back..

  • What an incredible letter! Thank you, thank you, Honcho.
    Our laws have become so contradictory and convoluted it’s hard to believe those laws have anything to do with the crime committed, let alone the person who served the time.
    Yes, many do deserve to lose every-day privilages. Some prisoners should never be released.
    Most; however, should serve an equitable sentence and learn to become accountable for their own behavior. Ethnicity should never have anything to do with encarceration in the United States of America. Let’s fix this.

  • ADW can be just a way to plea even if you were never charged with it. You can be falsely accused of anything major and even with no proof, the DA can/will hold you indefinitely even if they think or know your not guilty. They do this because they want to win their case and generate money for the county from the state to house you. You are then forced to plea or go to trial. Facing 32 years I chose trial, wore a suit and tie. I was then offered 8 or an increase to 40 years plus 24 more with enhancements if I chose trial. I chose trial again and eventually after being held for a year was offered ADW plea and I was out a year later. County makes $380 a day from the state to house people plus $500 to transport you to court.
    This took place Feb 2016 and I’m still on parole and managed to get an actual Harvard education in Computer Science, stemming from prison programs. I read the Bible over and over since (NKJV), and am now saved. Thanks to my accuser and DA, without whom I wouldn’t have read it. That’s the paradox, GOD bless you all who read this. This is the short version. M. July 2020

  • There are prisoners in CA prisons that are innocent of felony crimes, especially those who killed in self defense. I believe those cases need to be looked at again or re tried. I agree that child killers, molesters should stay in prison. Gang bangers that committed murders against other gang bangers should be given a second chance once they have served their time. Now, if they should happen to kill an innocent child or adult, then they should get longer sentences for negligence but that is reasonable. I believe non gang members who defended themselves from gang members and may have killed a gang member in self defense should not get a life sentence. They should be released and placed on parole, but not life sentences. Gangs in this country have gotten out of control!! They have and will continue to terrorize innocent people. If innocent people defend themselves with deadly force, that should not count against the innocent person for killing a thug with a gun or weapon that can cause great bodily injury. California being a liberal state, will not allow laws that protect innocent people from defending themselves from gang attacks. You can’t carry a gun if your a law abiding citizen to protect yourself. Gangs carry illegal guns, that’s a fact. So I say do what it is necessary to keep you and your family alive!!

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