California voters could have opportunity to rebuke criminal justice reform at the ballot box

Voters in California could decide on a measure that could roll back progressive reforms to the criminal justice system. 

A statewide initiative to roll back Proposition 47, a 2014 measure that recategorized some nonviolent offenses like shoplifting, fraud, and personal use of drugs as misdemeanors instead of felonies, has likely garnered enough signatures to be on the ballot this November. The new measure would allow repeat drug and theft offenders to be charged with felonies and make it easier to charge fentanyl dealers with homicide. 

Proponents say they do not want to go back to a time of mass incarceration in California, but believe the initiative would target repeat offenders. 

“We’ve seen more overdose deaths and a growing homelessness crisis,” Matt Mahan, Democratic Mayor of San Jose, who endorsed the measure, told Politico, citing “the number of small business owners who have expressed deep dismay because they’ve been victims of crime and have felt powerless to address it.”

Those who oppose rolling back the initiative and would rather keep in place how things are point to historically low levels of crime, and worry that some may be equating a rise in homelessness to a rise in crime. 

“I think what voters are looking for is solutions, and I think right now there’s a lot of gaslighting about what those solutions could be,” said Tinisch Hollins, a leader of Californians for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit that has pushed for more relaxed laws told the outlet. “A lot of the folks opposed to Proposition 47 and reform overall are counting on the fatigue of folks wanting immediate relief and rethinking their choices.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom (C-CA) has repeatedly stopped short of supporting the measure to real in Proposition 47, instead offering other legislation that would curb theft and other crime. Newsom and California lawmakers are working on their own bill package that would crack down on repeat drug and theft offenders.

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“For the past few years when we tried to do things (in Sacramento), I hit a brick wall. The dialogue is completely different,” California Retailers President Rachel Michelin told the outlet. “We went from no one wanting to do a retail theft bill — now it’s like everything’s a retail theft bill.”

Michelin said he and prosecutors working on the ballot measure would remain firm that they will bring the measure to voters unless California legislators bring forth comprehensive changes.   

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