California’s theft epidemic needs sentencing reforms to increase drug treatment | Opinion

Growing up in Sacramento and the Bay Area, we enjoyed the age of childhood innocence, not worried about our futures. We had the freedom to ride our bikes anywhere to school, parks or neighborhood shops to buy candy. It was a rare event to witness homeless individuals, let alone encampments in our parks or on our sidewalks. It was rarer to witness the human misery of drug addiction or the brazenness of thieves stealing from our local businesses. Never did we encounter merchandise or medicine locked up at stores.

As young prosecutors, we lived through the “tough on crime” era where our justice system punished people for their misdeeds but often ignored the need for rehabilitation. Over time, we learned that incarceration without rehabilitation is a recipe for failed outcomes. We learned that while consequences matter, so does compassion to help those in need. Lifting people out of addiction helps both the individual and the entire community.

In 2014, with a promise to help those in need, Californians passed Proposition 47 which reduced virtually all theft and drug crimes to misdemeanors.

Sadly, while well intended, it has become increasingly clear that it is not working. In the words of San Jose Mayor Matt Mahon, “So often, we pass legislation for the right reasons but end up with the wrong results.” Today’s adversse outcomes are impacting the quality of life of all Californians, including our children.

Since 2014, we have seen an explosion in homelessness, with California leading the country in the number of unhoused. While the crisis is perhaps most glaring in urban cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, and Sacramento, it’s everywhere. One cannot take a family drive along highways without seeing the human misery, overwhelmingly accompanied by addiction and mental health issues. And along that drive comes the witnessing of garbage, illegal fires, tents, and stolen goods.

We must acknowledge that the growing drug addiction crisis is connected to the surge in homelessness. Perhaps most significant, since the passage of Proposition 47, participation in drug courts has been decimated as judges can no longer compel people into mandatory treatment. The human toll is clear: Overdose death rates, particularly from fentanyl, are killing our family members. Last year, more than 800 people died from drug overdoses in San Francisco. Fentanyl dealers have been emboldened to “peddle their poison” to our communities without fear of consequences.

Since Proposition 47, theft has exploded. Whether driven by addiction or pure greed, it is everywhere. One need only see viral videos or spend time in a local store to witness the brazenness of thieves. In 2023, Los Angeles had an 81% spike in reported shoplifting.

In the words of Mayor Mahan, “While second chances may be worth giving, we shouldn’t be giving third, fourth and fifth chances without real consequences….”

Proposition 47’s failure to hold repeat thieves to higher accountability has contributed to store closures across the state. Too often, these store closures, particularly those providing essential services, disproportionately impact communities of color.

To address this crisis, we need greater interventions to get people the help they need. We need stronger penalties for fentanyl dealers. And we must hold repeat thieves accountable and deter future conduct.

The Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act will do just that. This measure is gathering signatures for the ballot in November. If passed by voters, it will create a path to mandatory treatment for repeated hard drug offenders. It will increase penalties for fentanyl dealers, making them subject to the same consequences that already exist for other hard drugs, and it will increase penalties for repeated theft.

This ballot measure has united leaders of all political stripes; it has brought Democrats, Republicans, and Independents together.

Last week, San Jose’s Mahan along with San Francisco Mayor London Breed joined a growing chorus of prominent elected officials from across the political spectrum calling for Prop. 47 reform.

There are few issues in politics today that drive consensus. But this critical ballot measure is doing just that. It is time to stand up and reform Prop. 47. Californians deserve it. Our children and future generations of this great state deserve it.