Prop 47's approval sparks fears of increased crime rates

Thursday, November 6, 2014
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Massive changes in law enforcement after voters approved Proposition 47.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Massive changes in law enforcement after voters approved Proposition 47. Many felony crimes are now eligible to be reduced. And local top cops are raising concern of a potential rise in crime.

Right now, about 10,000 inmates statewide are eligible for resentencing under Prop 47 -- which reduces many criminal penalties.

700 cases are up for review at the Fresno County Jail, according to Sheriff Margaret Mims. She and Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer are concerned about potentials for more crime, as they say Prop 47 shows criminals they won't be held responsible.

Many have long joked about a revolving door at the Fresno County Jail, and other lock-ups around the state.

Under Prop 47, approved Tuesday night by California voters, non-serious, non-violent felony crimes could be reduced to misdemeanors, which often carry less or no jail time.

"What we've seen through realignment, now through the passage of Prop 47 is really a de-criminalization of crime that sends the message that we won't hold people accountable," Chief Dyer said.

Dyer says before Prop 47 about 30 people in the city were arrested each day on drug possession charges. Now, they will simply get a citation and be released.

Sheriff Mims tells Action News she's concerned some criminal cases could be thrown out unless more evidence is presented. "So they may have been arrested on a felony, when now as a misdemeanor they don't have the probable cause to hold them. So we have to take a look at all those sentences," Mims said.

Mims also runs the jail and says she's still figuring out the total impact of Prop 47. But her patrolling deputies now know certain agricultural, drug and forgery crimes are simple misdemeanors.

Attorneys in court are even asking judges to reduce eligible cases, less than a day after polls closed.

ABC 30 Legal Analyst Tony Capozzi says that could save time and money. "All in all I think it's good that we have this," he said. "It will save the counties and save the state millions of dollars in housing criminals that could be going to some programs."

Prop 47 projects to save the state at least $150 million a year. That money is supposed to be redirected to education, mental health and rehab programs.

Supporters say these drastic changes give a lot of people second chances. Addiction specialist Debbie Harkness says rehab over prison for low-level offenders does work.

"This just gives people an opportunity to correct a mistake without lifelong consequences," Harkness said.

Supporters also say Prop 47 will help in rehab, where jails and prisons are failing right now.

Sheriff Mims says she's just trying to figure out any unintended consequences from this much like she ran into repeatedly with prison realignment.