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Arguments against Prop. 47 misleading

Opponents of Prop. 47 are using scare tactics to discourage voters from voting “yes” on this sensible criminal law reform. They say Prop. 47 will open the doors to early release of violent felons. This argument is incredibly misleading.

The only people who would be released are those serving sentences for personal use drug possession or for thefts of less than $950. No one serving time for any other crime will be released under Prop. 47. An inmate seeking early release would also need to apply for it, and a judge could block release if it would pose an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety. Prop. 47 would not apply to anyone with a record of certain violent crimes or sex crimes or who is required to register as a sex offender.

California incarcerates about 127,000 inmates at a cost of $47,102 each yearly, yet we only spend $8,482 per student. While we skimp on the schools, there is always enough money to lock up petty thieves and drug addicts. This misguided warehousing of nonviolent offenders might be justified if incarceration really led to rehabilitation, but it doesn’t.



California has a three-year recidivism rate of 65 percent. Inmates leave prison with no skills and a felony conviction. The one thing they do learn in prison is how to be better criminals, so without a job or tools, more than half return to drug use and crime. Proposition 47 would save $150 — $250 million by putting fewer of these low-level offenders in prison. Those savings would be passed on to the schools, victim services, and mental health and addiction treatment.

“Prisons are for people we are afraid of, but we have been filling them with many folks we are just mad at.”
Newt Gingrich
Former Speaker of the House

Opponents also argue that Prop. 47 will require misdemeanors for those who possess the “date rape drug” and those who steal firearms. This is another scare tactic. In the nearly 14 years I’ve been a criminal defense attorney, I can’t think of a single case I’ve seen or handled involving possession of such drugs. Most date rapists ply their victims with alcohol, not illicit drugs, and if they do spike their date’s drink with a drug of any kind, they face serious felony charges. As for theft of firearms, these crimes are usually committed along with other serious felony offenses that result in prison — even under Prop. 47. Most guns are stolen from homes during house burglaries — which are felony strikes. A gun stolen from a car can also be charged as a felony. Prop. 47 will not change this.




Prop. 47 has bipartisan support. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, a staunch Republican, supports Prop. 47. He says, “Prisons are for people we are afraid of, but we have been filling them with many folks we are just mad at.” Texas — once known for harsh criminal penalties — has been closing prisons and directing more money towards probation, drug treatment and mental health care since 2007, yet has continued to see a drop in violent crime.

When we imprison petty thieves and drug addicts, it’s basically like setting them up in apartments of their own with an allowance for food and clothing, only more expensive. Let’s stop housing petty criminals at the cost of almost $50,000 a year. We can prevent crime and addiction by better funding schools, drug treatment, mental health services, and victim services.

Please join me in voting “Yes” on Prop. 47.

Tamara Zuromskis is a criminal defense attorney and the views expressed here are hers not necessarily those of her employer. She lives in Grass Valley.


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