California Voters Poised to Change “Three Strikes” Law


The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act of 2014, or Prop 47, is a voter initiative on the November 4 ballot in California that will change low-level nonviolent crimes like simple drug possession and petty theft from felonies to misdemeanors, and would direct the savings to schools, mental health treatment, and victim services.

Twenty years after California voters adopted one of the nation’s harshest “Three Strikes” laws, 62 percent of voters now support reform. Prop 47 aims to keep non-serious and nonviolent offenders out of California’s overcrowded prisons by redefining property crimes involving less than $950 and drug possession for personal use as misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in county jail.

The California Legislative Analyst estimates about 40,000 people each year would be affected. State prison reductions are expected to generate between $750 million and $1.25 billion in savings over the next five years.

California voters passed Prop 36 in 2012, reducing the sentence for repeat offenders whose third strike crime is minor or nonviolent. Like Prop 36, which passed by more than a 20-point margin, Prop 47 has broad support, including that of law enforcement officials and leading conservatives. “Law enforcement has been on an incarceration binge for 30 years, and it hasn’t worked,” said San Francisco district attorney George Gascón. He is the main sponsor of the ballot measure, along with retired San Diego police chief Bill Lansdowne.

In a recent op-ed, Newt Gingrich and conservative Christian businessman and philanthropist Wayne Hughes Jr. urged California to follow the example of states like Texas, where reforms have dramatically cut both the prison population and the crime rate. “If so many red states can see the importance of refocusing their criminal justice systems,” they wrote, “California can do the same.”