Criminal sentencing reform initiative on the ballot in California

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June 27, 2014

By Ryan Byrne

On June 26, 2014, the Office of the California Secretary of State certified the Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative for the November 4, 2014 ballot. The initiative is being pushed by George Gascón, the San Francisco District Attorney, and William Lansdowne, a former San Diego Police Chief.[1] Gascón was a supporter of the successful 2012 Proposition 36, a similar "sentencing reform" measure. Also known by proponents as the Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act, the initiative would reduce the penalty for most "non-serious, nonviolence crimes" from a felony to a misdemeanor. Another notable aspect of the measure is the creation of a Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund. The fund would receive appropriations based on savings accrued by the state during the fiscal year, as compared to the previous fiscal year, due to the initiative’s implementation.[2] California would save "low hundreds of millions of dollars annually" by keeping non-violent offenders out of prisons, according to the California Legislative Analyst's Office. The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund would receive those savings and distribute them to crime prevention programs in schools, truancy prevention, mental health and substance abuse treatment and victim services."[3]

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón (D) deemed the current sentencing system a "failure." He said, "I think, increasingly, the public is more aware of the failures of the last 2 1/2 decades of our criminal justice system. The question is: Do we want to make communities safer or just punish people? If we really care about public safety, what we are proposing is a much better model."[4] Businessman B. Wayne Hughes Jr. added,

I am not an apologist for people who break the law... (but) folks are coming out of prison better criminals than when they came in, and that is not helping to get the state where we need to be. When a mom or dad or kid goes to prison, a grenade goes off and the shrapnel hits everybody, and when enough homes experience this, we lose whole communities, and that's what we have here. Twelve to 14 cents of every dollar spent in California is on incarceration, and meanwhile our infrastructure is falling down... This is a situation where the walls of partisanship ought to come down immediately.


—B. Wayne Hughes Jr. [4]

While 504,760 valid signatures were required for qualification purposes, 587,806 signatures were reported as valid for the initiative. That's 14 percent more valid signatures than were required.[6]

See also