State Sen. Nancy Skinner’s office published a flyer on the new Senate Bill 82, and the stated intent is to make sure that prosecutors drop charges on robberies elevated from shoplifting and petty thefts. "Under current law, prosecutors can elect not to charge robbery when minimal force is used. However, that discretion is not always exercised resulting in many shoplifting or other petty theft crimes being elevated to robbery, a felony that carries up to a five-year prison sentence."
However, the bill would redefine all robberies, not just elevated from shoplifting, when no weapon was used and no one was seriously injured as petty thefts.
California is going through a series of justice reforms through Proposition 47 passed in 2014 and now the new SB 82 to reduce incarceration and save taxpayer expenses. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office indicates that each inmate cost the state on average $81,000 per year (2018-2019). This does not include the cost of prosecution and legal proceedings. There are roughly 115,000 inmates in California since 2017.
Both Proposition 47 and SB 82 intend to reduce incarceration and instead use restorative justice. However, the problem is that we do not have a working restorative justice in California. Charges are merely dropped.
The average prison cost in the U.S. is merely $33,000 per inmate per year for state prisons, and $36,000 for federal prisons, which are less than half of the cost in California. Maybe, the state could figure out how to cut the prison cost and instead redirect the “saved” fund to prevent crimes.
Gov. Newsom has acknowledged that Californian per-pupil public education spending ranks in the bottom of the U.S. About 55 percent of California public school students are social-economically disadvantaged kids. Underfunding public schools causes social injustice. "According to a 2020 California Legislative Analyst report, only 21 percent of African American high school students who graduated in 2018 were prepared for college or a career. This compared to 33 percent Latinos graduates, 52 percent white graduates and 74 percent Asian graduates."
There is a well-known story from the fables of Aesop, a criminal bites off his mother's ear before he is executed. The reason why he does that was because he was not helped/stopped by his mother when he did small bad deeds.
The state has the obligation to sufficiently fund public education, and to make the restorative justice system work in practice beyond on paper or rhetoric. Otherwise, SB 82 could send a wrong message to the street.
Concerned residents should contact and have the voice heard by the Senate Appropriation Committee where the bill is currently under review, before April 5.
Shaohua Yang works as a system architect in the semiconductor industry in San Jose.