Earlier this week the VOICE joined New America Media in co-hosting a media briefing on Proposition 47 The Safe Schools and Communities Act. If approved, this law would reduce the classification of most nonviolent property and drug crimes from a felony to a misdemeanor, individuals convicted of theft under $950 would be able to apply for resentencing and have their records changed to misdemeanors, and the savings in prison costs would be shifted to substance abuse and mental health treatment programs, truancy prevention, and victims services. The estimated savings is expected to be about $200 million a year.
Specifically, the measure would require misdemeanor sentencing for shoplifting, grand theft, forgery, and fraud where the value doesn’t exceed $950. And will allow felony personal use drug possession convictions to be reclassified as misdemeanors.
Locally, the entire Riverside County Board of Supervisors opposes the initiative. They join other policy makers and law enforcement professionals in arguing that Prop 47 is dangerous, and far from safe for our communities, because it reduces sentencing for possession of date rape drugs, handgun theft, and identity theft.
“Before the ‘War on Drugs’ many of the drug possession felonies were misdemeanors,” Vonya Quarles of the Corona- based Starting Over, Inc, told ethnic media outlets during the briefing. Her organization provides transitional, emergency, and parolee housing in Riverside and Los Angeles County. While not affiliated with the campaign, she believes the initiative would give a second chance to minor offenders and begin building the foundation of a “beloved community” for all of us. “Prop 47 will reclassify select petty drug and theft crimes, reallocate the funds to treatment programs instead of prisons, and retroactively reduce those felonies to misdemeanors.”
Terry Boykins of Street Positive also works with young minority males, a population that would benefit from Prop 47. Boykins told media that at least 40% of the population of young men he represents has at some point been incarcerated. Many of them have been jailed for the possession of marijuana, shoplifting, or other minor economic crimes that don’t pose a physical threat to others. Young men, he said, who want to provide for their families but have encountered a series of obstacles, from incarcerated parents to an inadequate foster care system, to undiagnosed mental health issues. Quarles explained, “if a parent has been incarcerated the child has an 80% likelihood of becoming incarcerated as well.”
Both Boykins and Quarles see sentencing reform as a social justice issue. “We have criminalized poverty and mental illness,” Quarles said, “Instead we must be smart on crime.” She believes that with its passage this initiative will give a second chance to juvenile and adult offenders to become useful and productive citizens.
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