Editor’s note: On November 4th, Californians will cast their votes on Proposition 47. The prop, also called The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, would reclassify six non-violent crimes currently charged as felonies — including drug possession and shoplifting — as misdemeanors. Those currently serving time in prison for these felonies would have their sentences adjusted retroactively, resulting in early releases. Any money saved as a result of reducing the state prison population would be used to fund mental health and drug rehabilitation services, and education programs for at-risk young people.
The kNOw Youth Media and We’Ced Youth Media asked young people in Merced and in Fresno, California: When is incarceration a just punishment? And how should society deal with non-violent offenses and petty crimes?
Elizabeth Arteaga, 17, Merced
My dad actually got locked up when I was 10 years old. My mom told me he was stopped by police because they couldn’t see his license plate on his car. Then some other small offense from his past came up and he got sent to jail for a long time. He was initially sent to Sandy Mush here in Merced before being transferred to a jail in L.A.
A petty offense to me [is] something small like holding drugs, not paying parking fines, lying on taxes or… shoplifting items of low worth. The crimes that deserve incarceration are murder, serious drug offenses, rape and other sex offenses — anything that is harmful to society.
Pengsu, 16, Fresno
When people commit minor crimes it’s often for survival, so society should provide education and chances to get back on their feet. You should be locked up if you murder, or plan to murder. Or when you sexually assault a child, or are a part of a terrorist attack.
Lisbeth Vazquez, 17, Merced
My friend once told me that when he was living in Delhi (a small town in Merced County) a few years ago, he and his family lived in a small house next to a barn… which was part of their rental. One day, the police found some illegal substances in the barn and his dad was sent to jail. It wasn’t even his fault because the owners of the [rental] property had the illegal substances in the barn, and my friend and his family had no clue.
Our society should handle [petty crimes] with fines and classes or therapy, instead of jailing people. The crimes I feel deserve jail are big crimes — murder, rape, dealing large amounts of drugs, terrorism, and major fraud.
Kody Stoebig, 23, Visalia
My uncle has been in and out of prison for most of my life. It might seem unfair, but in his case he repeatedly broke the same laws and his punishment was fitting.
People who commit violent crimes or crimes that endanger the health or well-being of another should be put in prison. Rape and murder should be punished with the harshest sentences. Petty crimes should be handled with fines or community service. These offenders should also take court-appointed classes put on parole.
Peng Yang, 16, Fresno
To get locked up a person must do something violent against someone else.
Donna Lipscomb, 19, Merced
I believe all sex crimes of any type should be punished with incarceration. Also murder, serious gang crimes, domestic abuse and major fraud, should require jail time.
Crimes such as drug possession, petty theft and prostitution should be… dealt with, instead of being pushed away in jail. These crimes are not good, of course, but they are certainly not severe enough to require perpetrators to be sent to prison which ultimately costs our society so much more in money and resources.
Rose Chang, 14, Fresno
I think it is appropriate to lock someone up for using violence against another person, kidnapping, or rape.
Maihnia Lee, 22, Fresno
Citizens should be imprisoned when they have caused physical harm to another person, with the severity of the sentence contingent on the severity of the crime. Petty crimes are any crimes that do not directly harm individuals. These should be penalized with fines and community service.
Asia Navarro, 17, Merced
Crimes that deserve jail are serious things, like DUI’s, especially if they hit or kill someone, and murder, even if they… were part of it, they still deserve to go [to prison]. Also, fraud cases that take lots of money from people or companies. Abusive people who are constantly violent to their partners and risking their lives should also be jailed.
I consider petty offenses to be things like small time drug dealing or drug abuse. They’re not really harming anyone but themselves — they’re sick! Also speeding or when people steal cars for joyriding or, as they say, “G riding.” We should handle these offenses by sending people to rehab or anger management or some other kind of therapy. It would be more useful than just sending them to jail because often times people come out worse.
Jane Carretero, 16, Fresno
I believe people should be locked up when they pose a harm to the community or they cause damage or harm to someone in the community. Petty crime [offenders] should be sentenced to community hours.
Karina Guzman, 20, Fresno
In order to get locked up, the crime should present a life endangerment to those around them, be it physically or mentally. Criminal offenses that do not present violent actions or life endangerment towards others don’t warrant jail time, but rather fines, community service and probation.
Bryson Rule, 18, Merced
Intention to murder, gang violence, drug abuse, hate crimes and any crimes that intentionally hurt another person mentally or physically — these crimes deserve jail in my opinion.
Theft without murder or injury, accidental murder and self defense — these are things I would consider petty offenses. We as a society should do a better job of supporting youth who go through these things and provide some sort of therapy for them, perhaps along with a fine.
Sarah Vang, 16, Fresno
In order to get locked up the crimes should be rape, murder, treason, kidnapping, and larceny. Hurting someone and causing pain should get you locked up. The discipline for a petty crime should be jail for a small amount of time, or community service.
Asia Foster, 15, Fresno
I think it is only appropriate to imprison someone when they have committed murder or attempted a very serious crime. A petty crime would include stealing from a corner store. Society should identify these people and stay away from them.
Fernando Flores Duran, 15, Fresno
My uncle has served two years for an alcohol charge. Prison should only be used when someone kills or plans to kill others, and petty crimes shouldn’t be punished by more than 6 months in jail.
Cierra Thrower, 15, Fresno
I think you should get locked up for murder, rape and child molestation. Stealing is petty and society should warn them and get them to stop.