By Kimberly Barbosa Soeiro, MPP 2016
Currently, under California Law, some crimes can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor at the Court’s discretion. These are called “wobbler crimes” (2). Wobbler crimes are low level and non-violent, including simple drug possession (for personal use only), writing a bad check, receiving stolen property, and shoplifting.
Proposition 47 is coming up on your ballot this November. To Vote “YES” on Prop 47 would mean that six wobbler charges (grand theft, shoplifting, receiving stolen property, writing a bad check, check forgery, and drug possession for personal use) would be charged as a misdemeanor, rather than felony.
The problem with wobbler crimes is that the decision to charge someone with a felony rather than a misdemeanor is based on discretion of the courts. Michelle Alexander notes in her book, The New Jim Crow, that this discretionary practice has negatively impacted people of color more than non-white offenders. This perpetuates a system of second-class citizenship, where one loses the right to vote and faces lost social opportunities, resulting from a felony conviction (6).
Being labeled as a felon for a non-serious, nonviolent crime creates a huge obstacle when trying to gain employment, housing, and education. This cycle/trap perpetuates poverty and increases recidivism. In fact, the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network states that,
“Communities of color are vastly overrepresented in the corrections system due to harsh sentencing laws. Prop 47 has the potential to decrease the criminalization of communities of color, creating educational, employment, and economic opportunities that are significantly impacted by a felony conviction.” (3).
Similarly, Bend the Arc (a Jewish organization that promotes social justice) writes that our criminal justice system disproportionately impacts communities of color, crushing families and communities. They state, “Changing the current system is one of the most significant ways we can move toward a more just society.” (5).
Proposition 47 would not only prevent this disproportional impact by preventing discretionary sentencing, but the savings from this bill would go to provide funding for important programs and services in California, such as mental health services and education. The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act (SNSA) predicts that the state will save hundreds of millions of dollars annually, but in the next five years alone the state prison reductions will generate approximately $1 billion in savings (4). Twenty-five percent of the savings will be put toward K-12 school programs (25%), victim services (10%) and mental health and drug treatment (65%).
Let’s be sure to take a step towards the just society that we value and strive toward. Vote “Yes” on Proposition 47.
6 Alexander, M. (2011). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. New York: New Press.