Voters in California may take yet another step toward shrinking overcrowded prisons and easing criminal penalties.
A new Field Poll released on Friday finds that 51 percent of likely voters support Proposition 47, a measure on Tuesday’s ballot that would downgrade penalties on six crimes, moving the state further away from the controversial “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law passed two decades ago. According to the poll results, the measure would pass even if the 26 percent of voters who are undecided on the measure join the 23 percent who oppose it. If approved, California “will lead the nation” in ending felony sentencing for low-level and nonviolent crimes, the regional American Civil Liberties Union, which backs the measure, has said.
“It would officially end California’s tough-on-crime era,” says Thad Kousser, a professor of political science at the University of California at San Diego.
Though substantial, Proposition 47 wouldn’t be the first three-strikes reform passed by voters. Californians in 2012 overwhelmingly voted to reform the law, which required life sentences for even minor crimes if an individual had two prior convictions for serious or violent offenses. That vote removed imposition of a life sentence when the third conviction is for a minor crime and enabled more than 1,000 prisoners serving life to be released within the first year after passage.
Proposition 47 would take the wind-down of the three-strikes law a step further.
The measure would eliminate the possibility of being charged with a felony for those who commit any of six crimes. The crimes for which sentencing would be limited to misdemeanors are theft of property, shoplifting or writing bad checks when the value of the crime is below $950, check forgery and possession of various drugs, such as cocaine or heroin, for personal use. Proposition 47 would also require that estimated savings from the reform go to funding mental health and drug abuse treatment, reducing K-12 truancy and dropouts, and victim services. The state estimates it would see savings in the “low hundreds of millions of dollars annually, primarily from an ongoing reduction in the prison population of several thousand inmates.”
The Field Poll also found that voters are inclined to oppose a pair of ballot measures that have generated roughly $130 million in combined contributions.
Proposition 46, which would raise the medical malpractice cap by a multiple of four and tie it to inflation while also requiring doctor drug tests, only has the support of 32 percent of voters, while 49 percent oppose it. Groups opposing the measure had raised roughly $58 million, as of Oct. 24, according to a review of finance records by Ballotpedia, an edited political encyclopedia. That money largely came from insurers and doctors. Consumer advocates and trial attorneys are largely behind the more than $12 million raised in support of the measure.
Proposition 45, which would require health insurers to run rate changes by the state’s insurance commissioner, garnered only 30 percent support among likely voters, according to the Field Poll, while 42 percent were unopposed. Proponents of the measure have raised at least $6 million, while opponents funded virtually exclusively by the health industry have raised about $57 million.