Now that Proposition 47 has passed, thousands of inmates will be released from prisons in the state. The most visible impact of the new law will be the effect on drug possession cases: California is first state to make drug possession crimes misdemeanors instead of felonies.
City attorneys will now be backlogged by cases that used to be handled by district attorneys, including forgeries, theft and shoplifting. And drug offenders who were convinced to attend rehab because of the fear of a felony conviction will now lack the motivation to do so.
Molly Rysman, who runs a housing program for the homeless, was happy that drug users will not be as threatened by long-term jail terms, but noted that the prospects for housing them were “dismal.” Los Angeles County DA Jackie Lacey said, “I can’t say I agree with Proposition 47. It should have mandated treatment. Most of the money from the initiative will go to mental health and substance abuse treatment, but how we will get people to accept that treatment is the question.”
Under the new law, according to the Los Angeles Times, thefts, bad check writing and forgery charges which had heretofore been felonies are now misdemeanors if the stolen value is $950 or less. Lacey’s concern was about the theft of guns. She said prosecutors “will be looking at alternative charges for some of those cases, because we should all be a little nervous when a firearm is involved.”
Meanwhile, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, who said his office would have to deal with 13,500 new cases each year, asked the City Council for $510,000 to hire 15 lawyers and assistants who would help deal with the avalanche of new misdemeanors.
Los Angeles County jails, which up until now did not hold those convicted of misdemeanors, are preparing for the influx of new inmates charged with misdemeanors.
Legislative analysts say that each year roughly 40,000 California offenders will now be charged with misdemeanors instead of felonies. According to prison officials, 4,770 felons now in jail can seek resentencing.
In order to be released, inmates have to prove they are not a threat to the public. Those sentenced under the three-strikes rule may be given shorter sentences if their third strikes were for forgeries, theft and shoplifting. Other three-strikers may get shorter sentences if they pose no “unreasonable risk of danger,” which Prop 47 described as likely to commit serious or violent crimes, including homicide, sexual assault and child molestation.