Bid to toughen California crime laws set for 2020 ballot

Californians will vote in 2020 whether to toughen criminal penalties as part of an effort to roll back reforms adopted by voters within the past decade.|

SACRAMENTO - Californians will vote in 2020 whether to toughen criminal penalties as part of an effort to roll back reforms adopted by voters within the past decade.

The measure that qualified Monday was intended for the 2018 ballot but failed to qualify in time, a fact opponents said shows it lacks momentum. Its supporters, meanwhile, said they were disappointed and said counties could have processed signatures faster, although all were submitted within allowed timeframes.

"Nobody signs the petition to get a measure on the ballot hoping that they'll get to vote on it two and a half years later," said Jeff Flint, a spokesman for the campaign backing the measure.

It would reverse reforms implemented by voters through Proposition 47 in 2014 and Proposition 57 in 2016.

Proposition 57 allows nonviolent inmates to petition for earlier release and participate in rehabilitation programs. All releases still need approval from the parole board. Proposition 47, meanwhile, reduced some crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.

The new ballot measure would shorten the list of who can seek earlier parole and reclassify some theft crimes from misdemeanors to felonies. It would also expand the number of crimes where DNA is collected, a list that was limited when some crimes went from felonies to misdemeanors.

Backers of the tougher penalties said the recently adopted reforms have put dangerous criminals back or allowed them to remain on the streets. But advocates of the prior reforms say the state should focus on reducing mass incarceration and rehabilitating convicted criminals.

"Read the fine print. This flawed initiative would cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars and endanger public safety by restricting parole and undermining inmate rehabilitation," Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown wrote on Twitter.

Crime statistics released Monday by the state Department of Justice show the property crime rate in California decreased by 2.1 percent between 2016 and 2017 while the violent crime rate per 100,000 people went up by 1.5 percent. Backers of the earlier reform efforts say those statistics show the policies are working and keeping crime rates low.

"It's time to go forward, not backward. Taxpayers don't want to return our state to spending more money on bloated prisons, while local public safety resources suffer," said Lenore Anderson, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice.

Proponents of rolling back those changes feel differently.

"We are confident the measures will pass when the voters get to weigh in on it and it will have the effect of correcting a couple of mistakes from the previous criminal justice reforms," Flint said.

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