The California law that released more than 30,000

Security strengthened 46 times the national average, and yet the effort was not worth it. Even with this heavy investment, reported in an official statement, a large US drugstore chain stated that, from a financial point of view, it is more advantageous to close five of its stores in the city of San Francisco than to deal with the growing wave of retail robberies and thefts.

In online comments reflecting the event, residents of the largest state in the United States denounce and vent similar situations, revealing cases of theft and other similar crimes. The statistics, however, do not reflect this general impression, showing that homicides have risen in California and the country, and that other crimes have actually declined.

Both the escalation in crime and the drop in complaints are attributed by many people to Proposition 47, a measure passed in 2014. Why, after all, would such an old rule be so bad only now?

Before answering that question, Professor of Criminology at the University of California, Irvine, Charis E. Kubrin, tells Brasil de Fato that it is important to understand the context in which the measure was passed.

“In 2011, California had the most prison population in the country, and that was generating a flurry of lawsuits, given the overcrowding and poor conditions of incarceration,” he says, “it was so complicated that the Supreme Court had to intervene and ordered California to reduce its prison population by 33,000 individuals over a two-year period.”

From then on, says Kubrin, a series of measures was adopted, Proposition 47 being one of them.

“The premise of Proposition 47 was the immediate release of people who were imprisoned for petty, nonviolent offenses,” explains behavioral scientist Sarah Hunter. “This law basically turned petty drug offenses and theft of objects and goods valued at up to $950 into a misdemeanor rather than a crime.”

Approved with the support of 59% of the population, Proposition 47 entered into force to successfully comply with the Supreme Court’s determination. Different studies were carried out to measure the impact of the release of detainees, and what was found is that there was no significant change.

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One of the arguments that is quite common in the region is that official figures show the dismay of the population that, knowing that there will be no penalty for offenders, does not even file a complaint.

“Authorities say it’s very difficult to prosecute people for misdemeanors, that unless they’ve committed a crime, it’s not worth filing them,” comments Hunter, “I think the police are shrugging off these small offenses, which gives certain people the false impression that there are no consequences to committing a misdemeanor.”

As for Professor Kubrin, the problem is bigger and lower. “Yes, I’ve also heard stories of people walking around with calculators in their hands to see how much they can steal without getting arrested, but I call it anecdotal evidence, because there isn’t a study that proves it,” says the criminology professor at University of California. “This is not to say that there are no facts there that we don’t need to learn or investigate, but I think it’s important for us to understand that if people aren’t reporting certain crimes, because they think it’s a waste of time or energy, then they tell us that this isn’t exactly a problem.”

The researcher emphasizes that there is no part of Proposition 47 that says that police officers should not or cannot act, and that, therefore, the idea that the authorities are “with their hands tied” does not hold up.

As for the attacks on the measure taken after the intervention of the US Supreme, the interviews highlight the socioeconomic aspects of the crimes.

“There are several factors that are correlated in the criminal sphere, such as demographic, social and economic characteristics, right? Factors such as poverty, unemployment, access to firearms and drug trafficking can also influence this. In other words, there is a lot to do with it. put it on the scale, before aiming for Proposition 47”, defends Kubrin.

Criminology refutes the common sense that social problems of this nature are resolved with prisons. “If you tell people that you are going to punish them for bad behavior, criminal or not, people are less likely to be involved in the crime, but it only works to a degree. more severe and arresting more people, crime will continue to decline, but research shows that the relationship between incarceration and crime is much more complex than that,” he concludes.

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Until July of this year, the United States had the largest prison population on the planet, with more than 2 million individuals behind bars. China and Brazil appear next.

The polarization around Proposition 47 returned to the polls in the last elections, at the end of 2020, and again the Californians rejected its extinction, reaffirming that certain crimes should not be subject to jail.

This does not mean, however, that the measure is proof against criticism. Hunter points out that part of the text has not been put into practice – and this may explain the rough edges we see now: “the proposal said that the state needs to provide adequate resources to the community, to solve some of the systemic problems behind the crime, and that has not been done”.

Edition: Thales Schmidt

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