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Prop 47 Seeks To Reduce California Prison Population

Casey Christie
The Californian / Reporting on Health Collaborative

Proposition 47 on the November ballot would reduce some drug possession and theft-related felonies to misdemeanors. Opponents say it would put dangerous criminals back on the streets or in local jails. Ed Joyce reports from Sacramento.

Proposition 47 would change felonies to misdemeanors for some nonviolent property and drug crimes: Grand theft, shoplifting, receiving stolen property, writing bad checks, check forgery and drug possession.

The state's Legislative Analyst estimates that about 40,000 people convicted each year would be affected if the measure becomes law, but the number "could be higher or lower by thousands."

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón supports Prop 47.

Gascon: "One of the things that Proposition 47 does is it very clearly distinguishes between people that commit serious and violent crimes and people that do not."

Rocklin Police Chief Ron Lawrence says the California Police Chiefs Association opposes the measure.

Lawrence: "The California State Legislative Analyst' office estimates that about 10,000 convicted felons would be released from prison under Proposition 47. This simply is neither a sustainable nor responsible method for reducing California's prison population."

But Prop 47 supporter Gascón says there are safeguards against releasing dangerous people.

Gascon: "Anybody that has been convicted previously of murder, rape, or any other, you know, child molestation, those people do not qualify for an early release under Prop 47."

Lawrence says Prop 47 amounts to semantics.

Lawrence: "To decriminalize or to change the labels of crime in California is not going to change how our victims are affected."

The measure requires any financial savings to be spent on substance abuse programs, K-12 education, and trauma recovery services for crime victims. 

The state Legislative Analyst estimates savings in the "low hundreds of millions of dollars" from reduction in the state prison population under Prop 47.

But, Lawrence with the Police Chiefs Association says those prisoners and the costs of supervising them, may be shifted to local and county jails. 

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