Proposition 47 is reducing prison populations, but it may be causing longer
periods of incarceration for inmates who are unaffected by the legal changes.
Last November, California voters passed Proposition 47. Under this law, drug
possession for personal use and certain minor property crimes are now categorized as misdemeanors.
As many people in Riverside know, this measure was intended to reduce
the state's inmate population by sparing new offenders from harsh
sentencing and allowing certain previously convicted offenders to qualify
So far, the measure has been successful in this goal, but it has also had
an unexpected effect. The Los Angeles Times reports that people who are
convicted of offenses that are not addressed under Proposition 47 may
now be more likely to spend more time in jail, since early release is
no longer necessary to maintain a reasonable inmate population.
Overview of changes
Materials from the California Secretary of State's website explain
that Proposition 47 identified six nonviolent "wobbler crimes,"
which could previously be charged as misdemeanors or felonies, and reclassified
those offenses as misdemeanors. This change results in considerably less
severe sentencing terms for convicted offenders. The following offenses
are now considered misdemeanors:
- Drug possession for personal use
- Writing bad checks
- Receiving stolen property
The property crimes are only considered misdemeanors if the property in
question is worth less than $950.
According to The Los Angeles Times, several jails have reported decreases
in inmate populations since this measure became effective. In San Diego
County, the inmate population has dropped 16 percent. In Orange County,
the inmate population fell 22 percent over the same time period. These
population decreases may leave current inmates and recently convicted
offenders in danger of serving much longer terms.
Increase in incarceration
The Los Angeles Times explains that, in the past, it was relatively common
for California inmates to serve a fraction of their sentences due to prison
overcrowding. Some inmates served as little as 5 percent of the time that
they were ordered to spend incarcerated. Now, as overcrowding becomes
less of an issue, more inmates may serve larger proportions of their sentences.
For example, in Los Angeles County, people convicted of crimes such as
burglary and DUI used to serve an average of 10 to 20 percent of their
terms. People convicted of
violent crimes and sex offenses served 40 percent of their time, on average. Now, the
former are serving 90 percent of their sentences, while the latter are
serving 100 percent of their terms.
The Los Angeles Times notes that many inmates still will not ultimately
serve their full sentences. Still, the risk of significantly longer periods
of incarceration is one that Californians currently facing criminal charges
Seek legal guidance
Anyone who has been charged with a crime in California should consider
consulting with a criminal defense attorney. An attorney may be able to
help an accused person understand his or her rights and work toward the
most favorable outcome available.