Prop 20: Changes to Criminal Penalties and Parole


The Question: 

Should California law be amended to make changes to the process by which people are charged with certain crimes and the process for granting them parole?

The Situation: 

In the past decade, California has passed three measures—AB 109 (2011), Proposition 47 (2014), and Proposition 57 (2016)—intended to reduce the state prison population, as ordered in district court and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. AB 109 shifted people convicted of a variety of nonviolent felonies from state to local county jails (a change called realignment). Proposition 47 redefined certain nonviolent, non-serious felonies as misdemeanors unless the defendant had previous convictions for certain violent crimes, and it allowed resentencing for people convicted for the redefined offenses. Proposition 57 increased opportunities for parole for people convicted of nonviolent felonies who had completed the sentence for their primary offense.

Though these measures have brought the overall state prison population below 137.5% of capacity, as ordered by the Supreme Court, many individual prisons are still operating above that percentage.

The Proposal: 

Prop 20 would change various provisions of AB 109 and Props 47 and 57.

1. Certain theft and fraud offenses that were made misdemeanors by Prop 47 would become “wobblers,” meaning they could be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies, regardless of the value of the items stolen. It also would establish the categories of serial crime and organized retail crime, which also would be chargeable as wobblers.

2. Prop 20 requires the collection of DNA from people convicted for a variety of crimes, including some crimes that were redefined as misdemeanors by Prop 47.

3. Prop 20 creates a list of criteria for the Board of Parole Hearings to use in considering whether to grant parole to an inmate convicted of a nonviolent crime under the provisions of Prop 57. It would allow prosecutors to review information about the inmate and to review the Board’s decision, and it would allow victims’ families to participate in parole review.

4. Prop 20 expands the list of crimes classified as violent crimes in order to exclude those crimes from the provisions of Prop 57.

5. Prop 20 makes changes to the information provided to local officials when a person is released to supervision (parole or probation) and requires that counties request that parole or probation be revoked if someone violates the terms of post-release supervision for a third time.

Fiscal Effect: 

Precise costs are difficult to estimate, but because it would result in an increase in the prison population and change the way post-release supervision is handled, Prop 20 would increase state and local costs by tens of millions of dollars annually.

Support & Opposition
Supporters Say: 
  • Prop 20 reclassifies certain crimes, like assault with a deadly weapon, date rape, and child abuse, as violent.
  • Prop 20 would not increase the prison population; it would only ensure that people convicted of these crimes serve their full sentences.
  • Prop 20 will help stop car break-ins, shoplifting, and other theft that has been on the rise.
Opponents Say: 
  • Prop 20 will roll back prison reforms and cost taxpayers millions of dollars annually.
  • Prop 20 slashes mental health and rehabilitation programs that help to prepare people for release from prison and reduce repeat offenses.
  • Prop 20 will result in extreme sentences for petty theft and will disproportionately impact vulnerable minorities.