The passage of Prop 47, the 2014 bill that reduced six types of low-level, nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors, came with a lot of controversy. Surely, committing crime should have consequences, but some feared that without any real punishment beyond tickets and minimal fines, crime would go up. On the other hand, how harsh should punishment be for petty theft or drug use? Voters erred on the side of hope and second chances.
This week, USA Today reported that nearly 200,000 felony charges in Caliornia were resentenced to misdemeanors via Prop 47, enabling a whole new world of opportunity for jobs, housing, welfare benefits and more for now former felons. In Ventura County, 6,222 felonies of 10,870 petitions were resentenced. Conversely, petty theft crime in the Sheriff’s jurisdiction went up from 1,793 in 2014 to 1,865 in 2015. Though there was a 4 percent rise in petty thefts last year, there were actually more petty thefts in 2013 at 1,967, which makes any link in increased crime link to the passage of Prop 47 pretty fuzzy.
The passage of Prop 47 and the subsequent passage this year of Prop 57, which rewards good behavior of prison inmates and increases their chances of early parole, plus letting judges, not prosecutors, decide if juveniles should be tried in adult court, reflects a compassionate take on crime and punishment by California voters. And with the recent revelation of ridiculous felony sentencing, such as one case of theft of a pillow and another of 10 bales of hay; and one repeat offender stealing, on separate trips, several items, including mascara, tequila and cologne; there has been plenty of room for abuse in sentencing and the destruction of one’s potential with felony convictions. While we were concerned about the repercussions of Prop 47, redemption and lessons learned should never be taken for granted — especially by those who hold another person’s future in their hands.
Now that the holidays are here, in the spirit of giving, of mending fences and fostering goodwill, it is especially important to reflect on how we treat each other, how we can all rise together to bolster a society of peace and civility by treating with dignity and respect through understanding all those who struggle. While Ventura County residents do suffer from thefts, crimes that set them back and hurt their ability to be productive, we can’t just keep ignoring the reasons behind these actions, which often stem from lack of opportunity and lack of hope for the future. If we can come together as a community to help one another, perhaps we will see a shift from the petty crimes to, instead, a rising tide that lifts all boats.