California Prop. 20 would up punishments for a variety of crimes, restrict parole | #predators | #childpredators | #kids

Proposition 20 on the Nov. 3 ballot would increase punishment for theft crimes and make some prisoners ineligible for early parole consideration, repealing more-lenient measures approved by the voters. From a broader perspective, the initiative can be seen as a referendum on California’s shifting crime-and-punishment policies of the last four decades.

Starting in the early 1980s, state voters and lawmakers passed a series of victims’ bills of rights, justice reform acts, and laws named after crime victims that mandated and increased prison terms for various offenses and gave California some of the nation’s lengthiest sentences and most crowded prisons.

In the past decade, with prodding from courts in lawsuits over prison health care, the voters have changed course.

Proposition 36 in 2012 modified the 1994 three strikes law by barring prosecutors from seeking life sentences for defendants for a third felony conviction that was neither serious nor violent. Prop. 47 in 2014 reduced drug possession and low-level theft crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. Prop. 57 in 2016 allowed inmates convicted of a crime that the law classifies as nonviolent to apply for parole after completing their sentence for that crime, without serving additional years or decades for prior convictions or gang membership.

Prop. 20, backed by police organizations and some prosecutors and businesses, would repeal part of Prop. 47 by allowing felony charges for low-level thefts that are repeated or are committed with someone else. It would roll back Prop. 57 by reclassifying domestic violence and some assault crimes as violent offenses, making their participants ineligible for early parole consideration, and would toughen standards for granting parole.

“Coddling the criminal in California has been a big failure,” said Yes-on-20 spokesman Carl DeMaio, a former San Diego city councilman and chairman of Reform California, a business-backed organization. “We need to retake the streets, restore law and order.”

Opponents of Prop. 20, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Democratic Party and labor unions, call it a “prison spending scam” that will cost tens of millions of dollars without increasing public safety. Both sides agree that it’s a test of Californians’ views on criminal justice.


After setbacks in recent years, police and other backers of the measure “are trying to get the pendulum to swing back the other direction,” said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor in Los Angeles and former federal prosecutor who opposes Prop. 20.

Another former prosecutor and current critic of Prop. 20, Stanford Law Professor David Sklansky, said this summer’s widespread protests against police killings, and the election of progressive prosecutors such as San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, reflect an apparent shift in public attitudes.

“There is a broad, bipartisan recognition that over the past several decades American criminal justice became too harsh and too costly,” Sklansky said.

Still, voters don’t often reject proposals to keep criminals behind bars. And Prop. 20 zeroes in on a group of prisoners whose crimes, at least from their titles, are hard to categorize as nonviolent.

Among the crimes whose perpetrators are now eligible for parole consideration after completion of their basic sentence under Prop. 57, are rape of an unconscious person; human trafficking of a child; domestic violence; elder abuse; and assault by a caregiver on a child.

Prop. 57 merely allows them to appear before the parole board, which, after examining an inmate’s record and evidence of rehabilitation, still decides against release in a majority of cases. But backers of Prop. 20, which would require the inmates to serve their full sentences without parole eligibility, say even the possibility of early release is dangerous to the public.

The ballot measure “simply requires violent offenders and sexual predators to complete their full sentences,” Michele Hanisee, president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys in Los Angeles, said in ballot arguments.

Foes call the arguments fear-mongering.

“Californians are demanding change to the criminal justice system and have overwhelmingly voted to reduce wasteful prison spending,” says the No-on-20 campaign.

Prop. 20 is “aimed directly at our communities of color,” Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, said Thursday at a news conference by opponents of the measure. Latinas and Latinos “want to see our tax dollars go to more family counselors, mental health, things that prevent people from going to prison,” she said.

The measure would also reduce the scope of Prop. 47, which classified thefts as misdemeanors, punishable by months in county jail instead of years in state prison, if the amount stolen was less than $950, up from the previous limit of $450. It applies to such crimes as forgery, check fraud and shoplifting.

Prop. 20 would allow felony prosecution for any theft of more than $250 if the thief had two previous theft convictions or worked with others in two thefts within 180 days.

Supporters said the reduced penalties have led to a rise in shoplifting and other property crimes. Opponents say in their ballot arguments that statewide reports show no such increases and that “more teenagers and Black, Latino and low-income people could be locked up for years for low-level, nonviolent crimes.”

Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: begelko@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @BobEgelko




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