Prop 20: Tougher Criminal Sentencing

Watch "  Prop 20 in a Minute: Tougher Criminal Sentencing" to understand what a yes or no vote on this proposition means. Click the CC button for Spanish subtitles.


For a quick look at all the props, here's a printable guide in English and in Spanish.


A rollback of sentencing reforms adopted in 2011-16 that reduced overcrowding in state prisons.


To expand the list of crimes that can be treated as felonies and make it harder for prisoners to win early parole.

Vote Yes

Adds to the list of violent crimes for which early parole is restricted, allows certain types of theft and fraud crimes to be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies, requires DNA collection for certain misdemeanors.

Vote No

Maintains current legal provisions regarding sentencing, parole restrictions and DNA collection. 


Under Gov. Jerry Brown, California responded to a court order to reduce its prison population with various measures. Fewer crimes were defined as serious and violent felonies, and more offenders could serve time in local jails or become eligible for early parole. A group called Keep California Safe designed this ballot initiative to reverse those measures, which Democratic Assemblyman Jim Cooper, a former Sacramento County sheriff’s captain, said had “unintended consequences.”

Proponents of Prop. 20, who have strong financial support from law enforcement associations, note that sex trafficking of a child, spousal abuse, and some types of rape are not defined as violent crimes. They say dangerous criminals who participate in repeated, organized thefts are treated like shoplifters. Opponents say the changes would bring a return to what one reform advocate, then with the ACLU, called “the failed 1990s era of harsh sentencing and mass incarceration.”

Prop. 20 would require many more factors to be considered in granting parole, and it would reduce discretion in punishing multiple violations of the conditions of parole. It would require law enforcement agencies to collect DNA samples from adults for additional crimes including domestic violence, prostitution with a minor, and various theft, fraud and drug misdemeanors.

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Get Ready to Vote

Nov. 3 may feel far away now, but don’t forget to take the necessary steps to make sure you get to cast your vote! Here are some key details to remember:

  • Register to vote online by or have your mail-in registration postmarked by Oct. 19. If you somehow miss the deadline, all is not lost. You can still conditionally register up to Election Day itself. Not sure what your registration status is? Find out here.
  • Because of COVID-19, California is mailing all active registered voters mail-in ballots this year, so you don't need to request one.
  • Mailed ballots should be postmarked on or before Nov. 3 and received by your county’s elections office no later than Nov. 20. Scared your ballot is going to get lost in the mail? Don’t fret, the California Secretary of State has a ballot tracking tool so you can get notified of the status of your vote-by-mail ballot via email, text or call. Sign up here
  • If you want to deliver your ballot in person on Election day, make sure you do so by the time the polls close on Nov. 3.

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