The basics

What would Proposition 20 do?

Increase penalties for certain property crimes and repeated parole violations — and make it more difficult for some convicted felons to qualify for early parole and release from prison. 

Specifically, Prop. 20 would:

Give prosecutors new flexibility to charge some property crimes of more than $250, such as “serial shoplifting” and car theft, as felonies rather than misdemeanors. 

Increase penalties for former inmates who violate the terms of their supervised release three times, making it more likely that they will be sent back to jail or prison.

Require law enforcement to collect DNA samples from people convicted of certain misdemeanors — including shoplifting, forgery and illegal drug possession — to be stored in a state database.

Double the number of felonies that disqualify prison inmates from being able to apply for early parole consideration.

Why am I voting on this?

Attitudes about crime and criminal justice have whipsawed over the last 40 years in California. In the 1980s and 90s, voters and elected leaders repeatedly enacted measures to crank up penalties. The “Three Strikes” law of 1994 is the most notable example.

But as mass incarceration led to prison overcrowding, Californians began to have second thoughts. Six years ago, Californians passed Prop. 47, knocking many felonies down to misdemeanors. Two years later they passed Prop. 57, creating new opportunities for inmates to apply and qualify for early release from prison. The pendulum has swung. 

Law enforcement unions, conservative prosecutors, crime-minded legislators and some retailers concerned about shoplifting say it’s swung too far and they’ve put Prop. 20 on the ballot.

Supporters say

Californians made a mistake when they rolled an array of property crimes from felonies down to misdemeanors. It’s triggered a predictable increase in car thefts and shoplifting. Prop. 20 would correct that mistake.

Likewise, Califorians went too far when they voted to create opportunities for “non-violent felons” to apply for early release from prison. California law only specifies 23 offenses as “violent felonies” — and child abuse, domestic violence, hate crimes and aggravated assault are not on that list. They should be.


Opponents say

California already tried the “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” strategy. It didn’t cut crime, it exploded the state’s prisons budget and it tore apart countless families. That’s why voters have consistently backed reforms that give all but the most serious offenders a chance to rehabilitate themselves. This year, with more focus than ever before on how the penal system disproportionately harms Black and Latino Americans, is no time to revert back to a tired, failed approach.

Who's for it:

  • Democratic Assemblymember Jim Cooper

  • Republican Assemblymember Vince Fong

  • California Retailers Association

  • Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert

Who's against it:

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Democratic Party

  • ACLU of California

  • California Teachers Association

  • Chief Probation Officers of California