Props 5 & 6: Crime & Punishment

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, October 15, 2008

But the two propositions would do very different things. Prop Six would increase penalties for some crimes - which analysts say could lead to more people in prison. Prop Five is aimed at putting non-violent offenders in rehab programs instead of behind bars.
KXJZ’s Steve Milne has more on Prop Six in a moment. But first, KXJZ's Steve Shadley reports on Prop Five. 

Supporters say the goal is to decrease prison overcrowding by allowing non-violent drug and alcohol offenders to enter rehab. The measure would expand existing treatment programs. It would cost the state roughly 460 million dollars a year. Margaret Dooley-Sammulie is with the “vote yes” committee.

"It will allow us to stop addiction and mental illness drive down our record number incarceration rates, reduce our recidivism rate…which is twice the national average and get help to people who need it."  

There are currently more than 171 thousand inmates in California prisons. The state legislative analyst estimates prop five would reduce that by 18-thousand inmates. And 22-thousand others would no longer be on parole. That's because Prop five would also reduce parole by up to six months for minor drug offenses. Natahsa Minsker is with the ACLU of northern California…which supports prop five.

"Putting non-violent offenders on a shorter parole term and rewarding those people who do well on parole in their first six months is actually a more effective way of rehabilitating people and getting them back on their feet and into the community."

Opponents say the program is too expensive and the state can't afford it. Sacramento District Attorney Jan Scully says prop 5 would mean lighter sentences -- and more crime: 

"This is not about treatment…its really about totally revamping our sentencing structure. 
If proposition five passes…it will be the most significant sentencing revision in the history of the United States."

Matthias Medezona, executive director of the California Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving…says prop five would let DUI offenders off the hook.

"If you come before a judge for a substance abuse violation and you agree to undergo rehabilitation and you are monitored and you do what the judge actually orders you to do…then there is no conviction on the record." 

Prop five would also decrease penalties for some marijuana offenses. The ballot measure is getting some national attention. Billionaire businessman George Soros has contributed more than a million dollars to support it, and actor Martin Sheen is co-chairman of the “Vote No” Committee.

I’m Steve Milne with a report on Proposition Six. Matt Gray was shot and left for dead at the age of 13. The shooting happened on what should have been a happy day – a picnic at the family ranch in the South Bay Area. But it ended in tragedy when Gray was shot by a relative. 

"While I was trying to get away my stepmother was struck by a bullet and I was struck by a bullet and she died unfortunately. She was a very sweet woman." 

Today, Gray heads the advocacy group Victims Foundation. Unlike other victim’s organizations, Gray opposes Prop 6…the initiative that would create tougher punishments for some crimes. Specifically it adds an additional 10-year sentence for gang members who attempt to commit violent crimes. And it adds five years in prison for recruiting gang members under the age of 14. It also eliminates bail for undocumented residents charged with gang-related felonies. Gray says Prop 6 is the wrong approach. 

"There are many victims who do not want offenders abused in their name. They don’t think that that serves any constructive purpose." 

Maggie Elvey takes a different view. She supports Prop 6. Elvey’s husband Ross was killed 15 years ago during a robbery at his gun store in Vista, California. 

"He received 25 skull fractures with a metal pipe by two juveniles. Our country is being terrorized by gang violence. We must do something about it now." 

Under Prop 6 the state would also be required to send more money to local police, sheriff and district attorneys. That would go up 33-percent to 965 million dollars a year.

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer says they need that money. Especially since federal dollars have dried up. 

"The reason is much of the monies that were used for law enforcement have been diverted to fight the war on terrorism." 

But Prop 6 opponents like David Warren with Taxpayers for Improving Public Safety say earmarking money for crime means other programs may suffer. 

"Police officers are short of money. So are children who need schools and so are the county welfare systems." 

Opponents also say Prop 6 would fill up already overcrowded prisons because it increases sentences for certain crimes. In fact, the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office says the state would need to spend about 500-Million dollars to build more jails and prisons to deal with more inmates. 

However supporters say Prop 6 would ultimately reduce the prison population by funding intervention programs to keep kids out of gangs. 

Prop 6 supporters include the California Police Chiefs Association and California District Attorneys Association. Opponents include the California Public Defenders Association and the American Civil Liberties Union.