Voters in California have a lot to consider before the November election. They’ll have the opportunity to weigh in on numerous hot-button issues, including affirmative action, cash bail, consumer privacy, rent control and more. Among the 12 statewide issues on the ballot is Prop 20 — an important measure that aims to correct the unintended consequences of AB 109, Prop 47 and Prop 57, legislation that dramatically altered the state’s criminal justice system.
Before delving into the specifics of Prop 20, it’s important to review the laws it intends to fix. Here’s a brief recap.
- AB 109, the California Public Safety Realignment Initiative, was signed by Governor Jerry Brown and went into effect on October 1, 2011. This law was designed to reduce the state’s overcrowded prison population by shifting the responsibility of nearly 45,000 repeat “non-serious, non-violent and non-sex” offenders from state facilities to county jails, while also reforming the state’s parole system. Upon release, such offenders would be placed under the supervision of local county probation officers — called post-release community supervision (PRCS) — rather than state parole officers.
The law also changed the definition of a felony, amending it so that certain offenses can be punished in county jail. As a result, about 500 criminal statutes were amended so that they can be served in local jails. Since county facilities were designed to detain offenders on a short-term basis and not house criminals for the long term, the prison population in county facilities ballooned, with an average daily population increase of at least 12% (roughly 9,000 prisoners). This overcrowding led to hundreds of thousands of prisoners becoming eligible for and granted early release.
- Prop 47 was a referendum passed by voters in 2014 that reclassified and downgraded numerous crimes from felonies to misdemeanors with the intent of further reducing the state’s prison population. Current law classifies low-level felonies such as drug possession, forging checks, thefts under $950 and other nonviolent offenses as misdemeanors.
- Prop 57 was a referendum passed by voters in 2016 that required parole consideration for “any person convicted of a nonviolent felony offense.” Such offenses considered nonviolent by the state include assault with a deadly weapon, human trafficking involving sex with minors and domestic violence causing injury.
Many law enforcement groups — including LAAPOA and our statewide partners at PORAC — vehemently opposed this trifecta of laws, recognizing the great dangers they posed to the safety of our communities. “Props 47, 57 and AB 109, combined, have released tens of thousands of inmates, straining local jails and fueling a new surge in local crime and homelessness,” PORAC’s legislative advocates, Aaron Read & Associates, said in 2017. Indeed, following the signing of AB 109 and Prop 47, statewide violent crime rates increased from 2011 to 2015, spiking by nearly 10% in 2015.
The laws also posed great dangers to our peace officers. In 2017, Whittier police officer Keith Boyer was gunned down by Michael Christopher Mejia, a repeat violent offender with known gang affiliations. The incident occurred just nine days after Mejia was released back onto the streets due to AB 109. Whittier’s mayor and police chief blamed Boyer’s death on the three laws. And Sheriff Jim McDonnell argued that the laws released a high number of criminals “without creating a proper safety net of mental health, drug rehabilitation and other services.” He also said, “We’re putting people back on the street that aren’t ready to be back on the street,” and added that the county jail system had become a “default state prison.”
“These laws disregard prior criminal histories when it comes to early release, don’t hold offenders accountable for their crimes and have allowed numerous so-called nonviolent offenders to be released back into our communities,” LAAPOA President Marshall McClain says. “It’s high time we make changes to these laws, which have created a revolving door for criminals.”
Enter Prop 20, the California Criminal Sentencing, Parole, and DNA Collection Initiative of 2020. This measure would close the dangerous loopholes created by the recent criminal justice reforms by enacting penalties for certain crimes and repeated parole violations and more. If passed, the measure would:
- Classify certain nonviolent crimes as violent. Prop 57 allowed many violent criminals a chance at parole. Currently, state law considers crimes such as shooting someone with a gun, rape of a person by use of drugs and bombing a church or mosque “nonviolent.” Prop 20 would correct this by classifying those and 48 other crimes as “violent” to bar early parole consideration for convicted individuals.
- Reclassify some misdemeanor crimes as felonies. Prop 47 reduced penalties for certain theft-related crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. This has led to a high influx of theft-related crime, according to keepcalsafe.org, which reports that theft has increased by 12% to 25%, with losses of a billion dollars since the law was passed. Prop 20 would fix this by reclassifying certain types of theft and fraud crimes — such as firearm theft, identity theft and auto theft — as wobblers (felonies that can be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies) rather than misdemeanors, so that offenders receive increased penalties regardless of the value of the items stolen. The measure would also establish two new crimes, serial theft and organized retail theft, that would both be charged as wobblers.
- Reinstate DNA collection for certain crimes. Prop 20 would require state and local law enforcement to collect DNA from people convicted of certain crimes that were downgraded to misdemeanors via Prop 47. The DNA would be submitted to state and federal databases.
- Create stricter policies on parole. AB 109 allowed counties to decide whether to petition the judicial system to change a felon’s post-release supervision terms or status if they violated their supervision conditions. Prop 20 would boost penalties for people who regularly violate the terms of their parole. The measure would require a mandatory hearing to determine whether parole should be revoked for parolees who violate the terms of their post-release supervision three times. The measure would also require the Board of Parole Hearings to take into account an inmate’s entire criminal history, not just their most recent commitment offense, along with age, mental condition, attitude toward crime and more, when deciding on parole.
“Prop 20 would restore law and order in our state by rectifying certain areas of the law that have made it easy for criminals to thrive,” McClain says. “The measure would also give law enforcement the tools they need to better protect our communities from violent crime and theft by allowing them to apprehend and punish these criminals. A vote of ‘yes’ on Prop 20 is a vote for a safer California.”
LAAPOA urges all of our members and supporters to participate in the general election on November 3. If you have not yet registered to vote, there’s still time! Click here for more information.