An initiative backed by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon that would reduce some low-level nonviolent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and change sentencing guidelines has qualified for the California ballot in November, proponents said today.
Secretary of State Debra Bowen certified the measure Wednesday.
If passed, California’s Safe Neighborhoods and School’s Initiative will change sentencing for crimes such as simple drug possession, petty theft, receiving stolen property and forging/writing bad checks.
Proponents of the initiative say it will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in savings annually for the criminal justice system through the incarceration of fewer non-violent offenders.
“We need to end this cycle of crime and have a different attitude toward low-level offenders,” San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said.
Gascon, along with former San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne initially filed the initiative, which is one of six statewide measures that will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot.
The criminal justice system will dedicate the savings to prevention strategies in schools, mental health and drug treatment programs and victim services.
Gascon said the initiative will help police and prosecutors focus on serious crime problems while investing in crime-prevention programs.
“We can’t keep wasting prison beds on petty crimes,” he said. “We need to get smart with our justice dollars.”
The initiative would allow for felony sentencing for low-level crimes if the offender has a previous conviction for a violent crime such as rape, murder or child molestation.
If passed, the initiative would retroactively apply to currently incarcerated offenders.
Lenore Anderson, a former prosecutor and Executive Director of Californians for Safety and Justice, said as many as 10,000 inmates would be eligible to petition for resentencing if the initiative passes.
The initiative received more than 815,000 supporting signatures across California, well above the 504,760 needed to qualify for the ballot, according to initiative proponents.
Dennis Culver, Bay City News