Many perspectives, 1 simple etiquette

Calif. Proposition 47 Proposes Sentence Reduction for Non-Violent Crimes

Author: Steve Baker
Created: 15 October, 2014
Updated: 15 October, 2022
3 min read

During the general election, California voters will weigh in on Proposition 47. This proposition would create a distinction between a misdemeanor and a felony for certain crimes based on a monetary barrier of $950.

Poll: If the election were held today, would you vote yes or no on Proposition 47?

Prop. 47 will reduce penalties for non-serious or non-violent crimes by basing penalties on past criminal records in order to help alleviate California’s growing prison population.

The origin of this proposition stems from a 2009 federal order for California to reduce its prison population to no more than 137.5 percent of design capacity for state prisons by February 26, 2016. This order followed a report of overcrowding in California’s prison system, causing unconstitutional standards of health.

Proponents for the proposition argue state savings created by Proposition 47 will be used to fund programs such as dropout prevention, victim services, and mental health and drug treatment programs.

In a May 6 

SFGate article, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon stated:

"I think, increasingly, the public is more aware of the failures of the last 2 1/2 decades of our criminal justice system. The question is: Do we want to make communities safer or just punish people?”

Organizations like Open Society Policy Center, Atlantic Advocacy Fund, and the ACLU of Northern California have come out in favor of the measure.

Opponents believe that some crimes considered non-serious or non-violent, including grand theft, shoplifting, receiving stolen property, check forgery, and drug possession create irreparable harm to communities, local businesses, and judicial enforcement. Law enforcement organizations such as the California Police Chiefs Association, California Peace Officers Association, and California Correctional Supervisors Organization say the proposition is a bad idea.

San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, during an interview with U-T San Diego, declared:

“I do not support this in any way, shape or form... They talk about 10,000 felons eligible for early release. It would be virtually mandated and would prevent judges from blocking the early release of prisoners except in really very rare cases.”

Arguments in Favor

  • Reduction of prison populations, as federal mandated, to 137.5% of design capacity, or 110,000 inmates, compared to recent prison populations -- existing around 150% -- would increase health standards.
  • Fiscally, Proposition 47 would reduce the amount of funding that would have been necessary to house such non-violent criminals, which is currently projected at $8,961,368,000, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
  • State savings can be used to improve education and reduce dropout rates to curve California’s future prison populations.

Arguments Against

  • Proposition 47's language makes petty theft include any theft of property under $950. Therefore, phone snatchers or purse thieves have a legal protection against incarceration or severe penalties.
  • Thievery or check fraud under $950 will be harder to prosecute under Prop. 47. The level of trust between local entrepreneurs and customers will shift due to perceived lack of protection, affecting future economic development at the local level.
  • Property received through extortion under $950, possession of date rape drugs, or stolen firearms becomes a misdemeanor.


Over $4 million has been raised by organizations in favor of the proposition compared to just over a quarter of a million dollars that has been raised by opponents, according to Ballotpedia. Further, California’s citizens have been largely in favor of reducing penalties for non-serious or non-violent crimes. 67 percent of Californians would vote yes, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

A majority of Democrats and Independents are in favor for the proposition, while Republicans are the most divided on the issue with 50 percent in favor.

Ultimately, California’s future prison population will be determined by a yes or no vote by the public.

Image Credit: Mark R / shutterstock.com