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New California ballot measure would create special court for homeless crimes

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Former LA assemblymember hopes voters will support new system for “crimes due to economic need”

An abandoned shoe on the streets of San Francisco, subdued tones Via Shutterstock

Former California Assemblymember Mike Gatto wants to get tough on “quality-of-life” crimes while still being gentle with the people—often the homeless—most likely to be charged with them, with a new voter initiative that he hopes will land on the November ballot.

His plan, which he calls “California’s Compassionate Intervention Act,” would prosecute crimes like vehicle break-ins, public intoxication, or panhandling, but offer holistic sentencing instead of jail or other punitive measures.

(Note that the secretary of state will determine a proposition’s name on the ballot if and when it qualifies for a vote.)

The proposal would set up a special court to determine “whether a person committed those crimes due to economic need, a drug dependency, or mental-health issues,” and if so sentence them to rehab, a housing program, or psychiatric treatment.

The conviction would then be expunged once the sentence is completed, “so there is no harm to that person’s record” Gatto writes.

The former SoCal politician hopes that voters in SF, LA, and beyond will take to the idea as a way to “engage the homeless” but also reduce the kinds of crimes associated with homelessness.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Gatto, currently collecting signatures, hopes to get the plan on the 2020 ballot.

In California, any measure can qualify for a vote if a certain number of registered voters support it, based on a percentage of the number of people who voted in the most recent governor’s campaign—in this case, a little more than 623,000 people.

The most recent draft of the measure singles out crimes like public nuisance, panhandling, public intoxication, squatting, “willfully disturbing others” on public transit, and possession of a controlled substance.

While the measure doesn’t specifically cite homeless persons, statistically the homeless are more likely to be charged with most of the violations on the list.

Gatto calls for a sentences of up to 364 days in facilities like public hospitals, mental health treatment facilities, or special mental-health-focused hospitals within a county jail if the new court determines that poverty and/or addiction lay behind the motive for the crime.

If the plan gathers enough support, voters can consider it on election day, November 3.

On a related note, newly elected San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin promised that, after being sworn into office, he would not prosecute quality-of-life crimes.