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Proposition 47: Better Safe than Sorry

By Sydney LesterPublished November 9, 2014

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Proposition 47 proposes that certain "nonserious and nonviolent property and drug crimes" be reduced in sentencing from felony to misdemeanor in California. Opponents note that the measure decreases the seriousness of some controversial crimes, but supporters maintain that the lasting effects of the proposition could prevent crimes of a more serious nature down the road. Despite strong arguments for both sides, when it comes to gateway crimes caution should be the top priority.
By Sydney Lester, 11/9/2014

On November 4th California voters had the opportunity to vote on Proposition 47. If passed, this initiative would reduce "certain drug and property offenses" from felonies to misdemeanors. The list of crimes that would be reduced in severity of sentencing ranges from shoplifting "where the value of the stolen property does not exceed $950" to personal use of an assortment of illegal drugs. The savings expected to accumulate due to reduced incarceration rates would be put into the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund. Although it's impossible to gauge the exact amount of savings to be obtained if the proposition passed, the estimates range from $150 million to $250 million per year. Naturally, there is both strong support for and adamant opposition to Proposition 47 due to the range of crimes and unforeseeable consequences of reducing crime classifications.

Those against the proposition warned voters to look at the ramifications that would arise if Proposition 47 were to pass. Unsurprisingly, opponents honed in on the most taboo laws that stand to change. For instance, among the list of drug possession crimes reduced would be the possession of predatory drugs. Opponents of the proposition pointed out that predatory drugs are often used in conjunction of more serious crimes like rape, hence their colloquial name: "date rape drugs." This raises the possibility that relaxing the severity of the crime would increase the use of predatory drugs and therefore increase the number of rapes. Another law subject to change that adversaries have honed in on was theft of a firearm. If passed, Proposition 47 would make the theft of any firearm less than $950 a misdemeanor, unless the perpetrator had previously been convicted for a sex crime or violent felony. Even with the provision, challengers to the initiative argued "that people don't steal guns to add to their collection- they steal guns to commit other crimes." While currently these are hypothesized scenarios, the possibility that they could become realities is scary. Passing Those against Proposition 47 brought forward the pivotal idea that changing certain felonies to misdemeanors has the potential to increase more serious crimes, a serious risk not worth taking.

On the flip side, proponents of the initiative highlighted how the savings could not only benefit the state as a whole but also prevent future crimes. Though incarceration is intended to discourage criminal activity that is not always the case. Dr. Samenow, a clinical psychologist and author of Inside the Criminal Mind, contends that "criminals enjoy the excitement and risks, do not anticipate capture, and instead focus on what they want." First-time convicts are likely to engage in illegal activities again and many serious criminals have high rates of recidivism. Clearly, prisons are not always enough of a deterrent. If passed, Proposition 47 would funnel the projected savings into "K-12 schools, mental health treatment and victim services." Future and repeat crimes could be prevented if proper education and treatment measures were enacted. If passed, Proposition 47 could have long term effects in reducing California's criminal activity.

Proposition 47 did pass in California but it's still worthwhile to consider both positive and negative aspects of this legislation. Although they are classified as nonserious and nonviolent crimes, the change in status from felony to misdemeanor could cause an increase in these crimes. The charge reduction has the potential to decrease the amount of these crimes in the future by increasing funding to preventative crime programs, however. Since the proposition has passed, the warnings of increased serious crimes can only linger as cautions. Still, the full implications of this proposition can only be fully known and assessed with time and experience. Now Proposition 47 will serve as an experiment for other states that are toying with the idea of passing similar legislation. Proposition 47 will certainly leave a lasting impact- perhaps one of glory and perhaps one of ill repute.