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Lower sentences for drug crimes, overcrowding still uncertain

The prison population is down somewhat throughout the California county jails as a result of  the changes made by Proposition 47. The referendum paved the way to make certain crimes, including some drug crimes, punishable as misdemeanors instead of felonies. The result was to make the maximum sentence for those offenses to be no more than one year.

Ironically, however, the county prison systems have responded to the reduction in prisoner numbers by retracting early release dates previously scheduled for those with longer sentences. The early release dates were part of an earlier policy mandated by the courts in order to alleviate prison overcrowding. Now, some prisons report that they are keeping some of those offenders in for a longer time and taking away their early release dates.

In one California county, the numbers dropped for a relatively short time and then rose back up to previous levels. This appears to be partly due to the action of county prisons attempting to keep their populations at capacity by taking away the early release dates of some prisoners. Prisoners in custody for drug crimes impacted by Proposition 47 may file a petition with the court, requesting a reduction due to the changes enacted by the successful referendum.

One prison official pointed out his belief that those who are re-sentenced and released due to Proposition 47 are going back out and committing more crimes. They then return back to swell the prison populations again. As to new bookings, most of the prisons are down several hundred per day, which is attributed directly to Prop 47.

Furthermore, instead of getting taken in for booking, violators of reformulated drug crimes in California are being given tickets to appear later, which is a more typical procedure for a misdemeanor arrest. Victims groups are pleased in one respect: the harder-core prisoners are having their early release dates put off, keeping the more serious offenders off the streets. However, if the prison populations are quickly rebound to prior numbers, that means that the overcrowding issue is not being addressed.

Source:, "Proposition 47, reduced jail populations, but perhaps just short-term", Feb. 3, 2015

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