In November 2014, California voters approved Proposition 47, which downgraded drug possession and many property crimes from a felony to a misdemeanor. As Debra Saunders reminds us, proponents argued that lesser punishment for low-level offenders would enhance public safety.
Unfortunately, this utterly counterintuitive notion has not panned out. In San Francisco, according to a police spokesman, theft from cars is up 47 percent this year over the same period in 2014. Auto theft is up by 17 percent. Robberies are up 23 percent. And aggravated assaults are up 2 percent. (To be fair, burglaries are down 5 percent).
How about Los Angeles? It has seen a 12.7 percent increase in the overall crime this year, according to the Los Angeles Times. Violent offenses are up 20.6 percent; property crimes by 11 percent.
Is there are a connection between Prop 47 and the California crime wave? Of course. A district attorney explains:
It used to be that if you were caught in the possession of methamphetamine, you would be arrested; you’d end up in drug court or in some other program, probably in custody receiving some type of treatment. Well, now the officers on the street just give them a ticket. . . .
The case actually gets forwarded to my office. We charge them with a crime, but they never show up to court. They get arrested again and are given another ticket for methamphetamine.
LA substance treatment rolls are down by 60 percent, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell. The reason is Prop 47. As Sheriff Geoff Dean told the Ventura County Reporter, Prop 47 got drug offenders out of jail “but it also got them out of treatment.”
Dean believes the measure will increase violent crime, as substance abusers commit more robberies and assaults. Based on the figures Saunders cites, it probably already has done.
Although Prop 47 doesn’t formally decriminalize low level offenses, it does so in practice. Why bother enforcing statutes and ordinances if they carry no prison sentence? What’s the point of writing a ticket if the recipient isn’t going to show up in court?
According to Saunders, Prop 47 prompted California to release 3,700 prison inmates. Overall, the state’s prison population is down by more than 50,000 state inmates in the three-and-half years since Gov. Jerry Brown began his policy of “realignment,” of which Prop 47 is an extension.
I agree with Saunders. “A change that big cannot come without consequences,” not even if you call it “smart sentencing.”
In California, the consequences include more crime and less drug treatment. Conservatives are deluding themselves if they believe the consequences elsewhere will be less toxic.