Supporters of Prop 20 aim to enhance public safety, hold people accountable for certain crimes

Cynthia Zimmer
Posted at 6:20 PM, Oct 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-23 16:20:15-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif.  — Proposition 20 has been long in the making. Its supporters say it aims to enhance public safety and hold people more accountable for certain crimes. Opponents of the bill call it the latest initiative to combat criminal justice reform in California.

"It is time to hold criminals accountable."

That's a sentiment shared by Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer. She says when Prop 47 passed accountability for theft crimes under $950 went out the door.

"They don't even go to jail. They get a ticket in the street. They are not even booked very often. They just get a ticket with a promise to appear to go to court. And then when they don't go to court there is a warrant for their arrest and when they are found on that warrant for their arrest, they get another ticket."

It's a cycle seen too often in Bakersfield, according to Zimmer. Which is why she is in support of Prop 20.

The three main objectives are to recategorize certain types of theft and fraud crimes from misdemeanors to felonies, require DNA collection for certain misdemeanors, and restrict early parole for specific crimes such as the rape of an unconscious person, sex trafficking, and felony domestic violence.

The DA's office used Marcos Peter Gomez as an example of several pending cases related to theft in recent months. He is being accused of two counts of shoplifting from the same store on the same day, two hours apart. He was taken into custody the next day and released with a citation. The day after, he allegedly shoplifted from three different stores in a matter of hours. Two days later, he shoplifted again from a store, was cited and released, and went back to the same store an hour later and allegedly stole once more.

According to Zimmer, Prop 20 would allow for more accountability for these types of crimes.

"This proposition allows someone to be prosecuted as a felon if they steal over $250 and have two prior theft convictions," said Zimmer.

Those who oppose Proposition 20, say the measure is the latest attempt to roll back criminal justice reform in California.

"Prop 20 is literally a scare tactic."

Sam Lewis is the Executive Director of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition. He says the proposition would disproportionately affect minorities that suffer from drug addiction and mental health issues.

"How about we send them to treatment like we are saying we are going to do with white America in the opioid epidemic. How about we do the right thing for people that are of color," said Lewis.

The fiscal impact of Prop 20 is estimated to be in the tens and millions annually, which would in part go towards anticipated increases in county jail populations, increased court-related costs, and law enforcement costs.

"All of those dollars saved have gone back into the system, but gone back into the system to provide services to victims, rehabilitative programs, treatment. And so what we're attempting to do, what prop 20 is attempting to do is to roll that back and warehouse people for low-level commitment offenses," said Lewis.

Again, a yes vote on prop 20 would allow California to recategorize certain types of crimes from misdemeanors to felonies, require DNA collection for some misdemeanor crimes, and restrict early parole for specific crimes.