Prop. 47’s Benefits Are Clear

Wayne Hughes Jr.
Former Executive of Public Storage and Founder of American Commercial Equities, which includes properties in Orange and Los Angeles Counties. In 2011, he founded Serving California, a nonprofit that facilitates healing for military families, crime victims, and inmates looking to rebuild their lives. He has contributed to the Prop 47 campaign.

Well, they’re at it again – the fear-mongers that malign smart, common sense ideas because they’re afraid of changing the status quo.

But when it comes to our bloated, ineffective prison system, the status quo needs dramatic changing. That’s why I and other conservative Republicans (like Newt Gingrich) have joined law enforcement, crime victims and others to support Proposition 47, the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, this November.

It’s time we drop all the politics and fear-mongering and actually look at what works to protect public safety. Because it is that very same fear-mongering that got us into this mess.

In the 1980s, California and the nation began sending more people to prison for longer terms. Between 1984-1991, California passed more than 1,000 new criminal laws, most adding felonies to the books and extending sentence lengths. In fact, sentences in 2009 were 51% longer than in 1990 – for the same offense.

Was this all based on public safety science? No, it was based on politics. Were criminologists advocating for these changes? No, fear-mongerers were – people who, sadly, only see the world in black and white.

If we want to look at our justice system in such stark terms, here’s something that’s black and white: California’s jails and prisons are dangerously crowded. We have to prioritize that space for people who are truly dangerous and deserve to be incapacitated. And we have to prioritize taxpayer resources for the strategies that stop, not just pause, cycles of crime.

That’s why Prop. 47 makes so much sense. It changes six nonviolent offenses (e.g., simple drug possession, petty theft and shoplifting, writing a bad check, receiving stolen property) from felonies that can carry prison time to misdemeanor punishments that can be more focused on actually change their behavior, such as drug or mental health treatment, supervised probation or victim restitution.

Because we spend $62,396 each year in California per prisoner, independent analysts say that Prop. 47 would produce $750 million to $1.25 billion in savings within its first five years. That would then be allocated to mental health and drug treatment, K-12 programs and victims services.

Don’t believe the nonsense you hear from those who can’t see this logic. There is absolutely no automatic release under Prop. 47. Judges will decide who is eligible and safe to release, and the measure actually is written to prohibit rapists, murderers, molesters and the most dangerous criminals from being released or benefiting from the law in any way.

Distortions about the measure’s impact on gun crimes are flatly false. Prop 47 maintains California’s strict gun laws, ensuring felony penalties for any crime related to guns. Also flying in the face of the opposition’s hysterics is the truth about Prop. 47 and sex crimes. Under the law, using or attempting to use any kind of drug to commit date rape or other felony crimes remains a felony.

If any of these false claims were true, Prop. 47 would not have the support of conservatives, District Attorneys, police chiefs, thousands of crime victims, chambers of commerce and, oh, a majority of Californians. But it does.

Prop. 47 improves public safety and finally will allow California to prioritize our criminal justice resources on serious, violent crime, while breaking cycles of low-level crime that have too long led to waste and woe. The status quo has to go when it is not working, and our current prison system is not good for public safety and fiscal security.

So the fear-mongerers might be at it again, but Californians won’t fall for it again this time. We’re going to pass Prop. 47 – and all be better off for it. The fear-mongerers can thank me later.

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