Proposition 20 would toughen California criminal penalties. Here’s how it works

By Andrew Sheeler and Jason Pohl, The Sacramento Bee  2 days ago
California voters are being called on to decide whether past ballot measures aimed at reducing incarceration statewide went too far.Proposition 20 would introduce tougher consequences for certain crimes, and block inmates convicted of certain offenses from getting early release.

Here’s what you need to know:

What is Prop. 20?

To understand Proposition 20, one first needs to recall Propositions 47 and 57.

California voters in 2014 approved Proposition 47, which lowered the penalty for certain theft-related crimes from felony to misdemeanor.

Then, in 2016, Californians voted for Proposition 57, which changed the state constitution to make it so that inmates convicted of non-violent felonies could become eligible for release after serving the term of their primary crime.

Now, in 2020, supporters of Proposition 20 seek to roll back some of the changes enacted by those previous ballot measures.

The ballot measure would turn several misdemeanor theft offenses into potential felonies, carrying the potential for a years-long sentence.

It also would prevent people incarcerated on certain offenses from earning early release for good behavior. In addition, parole boards would be required to consider a person’s entire criminal history, not just the offense for which they are incarcerated, when considering parole.

Finally, it would crack down on repeat probation violators by requiring probation officers to ask for a change in terms of supervision, meaning more possible jail time, in the event of a third such violation.

Who wants Prop. 20 to pass?

The ballot measure is supported by law enforcement groups, including the California Police Chiefs Association and the California District Attorneys Association, retail groups such as California Grocers Association, as well as some victims rights organizations, such as Crime Victims United of California.

“Really this is a lot about preventing victimization and making sure people are being held accountable,” said Citrus Heights Police Chief Ron Lawrence, the immediate past president of the California Police Chiefs Association

Lawrence said that while the criminal justice reform of the last decade was well-intended, it resulted in a rise in thefts in the state.

The Yes on Prop. 20 campaign cites California Department of Justice statistics that show a 30% increase in thefts since Prop. 47 made $950 the threshold for felony theft.

Lawrence argued that Prop. 20 will not put any more people in prison; people convicted under offenses made into felonies would be sentenced to county jail or drug treatment, not prison, he said.

The ballot measure, if passed, would keep some people in prison who might otherwise be able to get out early. But Lawrence said that this would be for people convicted of offenses such as human trafficking of a child or exploding a bomb to injure people.

Another proponent of Prop. 20 is Bishop Ron Allen, founder of the International Faith-Based Coalition, a group focused on drug use prevention, and a Sacramento-area pastor.

A recovering drug addict himself, Allen said that Proposition 20, by mandating drug treatment for certain cases, would bring help to those who otherwise wouldn’t seek it.


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