donate or subscribe
Follow Us Twitter Facebook

Advocates celebrate Prop. 47 victory against mass incarceration and war on drugs but raise concerns about where the funding will go: four perspectives

November 6, 2014

by Diana Zuñiga, Californians United for a Responsible Budget

On Nov. 4, California voters passed criminal justice reform measure Proposition 47. Proposition 47 changes the lowest level drug possession and petty theft crimes from felonies to simple misdemeanors for some people.

Cartoon by Tom Myer, meyertoons.com

Cartoon by Tom Myer, meyertoons.com

Although re-sentencing is not guaranteed, up to 10,000 people in California’s prisons and jails will be eligible for resentencing, and newly sentenced individuals who meet the requirements will be under county jurisdiction. The measure is predicted to save $150 million-$250 million a year to be channeled into prevention programs and recidivism reduction, but advocates have raised concerns about exactly where that money will go.

“The passage of prop 47 is yet another clear signal that the majority of Californians want an end to mass incarceration and an increase in spending on social programs,” says Emily Harris, statewide coordinator of Californians United for a Responsible Budget. “The passage of this proposition is a clear signal that all planned prison and jail expansion should be halted immediately before any more public funds are squandered.”

Currently, the state is building new prison beds at Mule Creek prison in Ione and Donovan prison in San Diego, costing taxpayers $810 million, and is converting two former juvenile prisons into adult facilities. In recent years, California has pushed forward $2.2 billion of jail construction money, propelling over 41 counties to make jail expansion plans.

The majority of savings from this measure – 65 percent – will go directly to the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC), the body responsible for directing billions of dollars of construction money to prisons, jails and juvenile detention centers. The majority of the board members are law enforcement officials.

“The passage of prop 47 is yet another clear signal that the majority of Californians want an end to mass incarceration and an increase in spending on social programs,” says Emily Harris, statewide coordinator of Californians United for a Responsible Budget.

“The intent of this measure is to reduce the prison population and channel savings into mental health and substance abuse services that have been drastically underfunded in California – that’s why Californians voted for it,” says Pete Woiwode of the California Partnership, a statewide coalition of anti-poverty organizations. “The battle now is to make sure that those services stay in the community and are not just another excuse to build more jails. If the BSCC allows these resources to end up in the hands of the sheriffs, they’ll be violating the will of the voters and pushing poor people towards jail instead of the services they need.”

“The intent of this measure is to reduce the prison population and channel savings into mental health and substance abuse services that have been drastically underfunded in California – that’s why Californians voted for it,” says Pete Woiwode of the California Partnership.

Advocates have also raised concerns about the 25 percent of funding that will go to the Department of Education to reduce truancy and support at-risk students or victims of crime. “We need everyone who voted for this measure to show up Nov. 5 and make sure that the school allocation money will fund counselors, restorative justice practices, and social workers – and not school police, surveillance cameras or high power weapons as we’ve seen in the past, especially here in L.A,” says Patrisse Cullors-Brignac, director of Dignity and Power Now.

A 2014 report by the Legislative Analysts’ Office from Feb. 19, 2014, recommends that proposals for new jail construction funding be put on hold until the state conducts an analysis of what space is needed and whether counties have maximized alternatives to creating jail space.

Diana Zuñiga can be reached at diana@curbprisonspending.org.

Victory! California takes significant step toward ending mass incarceration and war on drugs

by Tony Newman and Lynne Lyman, Drug Policy Alliance

California voters took a significant step on Nov. 4 toward ending mass incarceration and the war on drugs by approving Proposition 47. On the heels of reforming the state’s “three strikes” law in the 2012 election, Californians overwhelmingly voted to change six low-level, nonviolent offenses – including simple drug possession – from felonies to misdemeanors.

“The overwhelming support for this reform sends a powerful message nationally, demonstrating that voters are not just ready but eager to reduce prison populations in ways that can enhance public safety,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Prop. 47 has the potential to drastically reduce the number of people in state prisons and county jails – who don’t need to be there for reasons of either justice or safety – by making 20,000 current people eligible for resentencing and reducing new admissions by 40,000 to 60,000 every year. Between 500,000 and 1 million Californians will be eligible for automatic felony expungement, thereby removing debilitating barriers to employment, housing, education and public assistance. Prop. 47 will then dedicate the savings – likely more than $1 billion over five years – to schools, victim services, and mental health and drug addiction treatment.

With its retroactive sentencing and expungement provisions, the impact of Prop. 47 in California on wasteful corrections spending and individual lives will be profound and surely resonate across the country.

“The overwhelming support for this reform sends a powerful message nationally, demonstrating that voters are not just ready but eager to reduce prison populations in ways that can enhance public safety,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

With less than 5 percent of the world’s population but nearly 25 percent of its incarcerated population, the United States incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world – largely due to the war on drugs. Misguided drug laws and draconian sentencing requirements have produced profoundly unequal outcomes for communities of color. Although rates of drug use and selling are similar across racial and ethnic lines, Black and Latino people are far more likely to be criminalized for drug law violations than white people.

Statewide, Prop. 47 will save counties between $400 million and $700 million annually, according to a brief by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. Statewide, jails will see freed capacity of 10,000 to 30,000 jail beds.

Using three counties as examples, the brief estimated that Los Angeles County will save $100 million to $175 million, San Diego County will save between $28.4 million and $49.7 million, and San Joaquin County between $6.8 million and $12.0 million annually with the implementation of Prop. 47. Most of these savings will accrue from freed jail capacity, with between 2,500 and 7,500 jail beds freed in Los Angeles County, 700 to 2,100 beds freed in San Diego County, and 170 to 500 beds freed in San Joaquin County.

Although Prop. 47 does not specifically address marijuana, people with felony records for marijuana possession – which is possible because possession of marijuana concentrates can be charged as a felony under current law – would be eligible to be resentenced and can also file a petition to expunge or clear their records.

DPA’s lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, supported this initiative with assistance on its drafting, as well as financial and other support for the campaign.

“We’ve been trying to get simple drug possession reclassified as a misdemeanor through Sacramento for years, facing first an unwillingness by the Legislature and then last year’s veto by Gov. Brown,” said Lynne Lyman, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “With Prop. 47, California voters took the issue of smart justice into their own hands. If the people lead, the leaders will follow.”

“With Prop. 47, California voters took the issue of smart justice into their own hands. If the people lead, the leaders will follow.”

Tony Newman and Lynne Lyman can be reached via la@drugpolicy.org.

California’s passage of Prop. 47 a breakthrough for smart justice

by Lenore Anderson, Californians for Safety and Justice

The passage of Proposition 47 is a historic moment in California. California has gone from a state epitomizing our country’s over-reliance on incarceration to now leading the nation in advancing smart justice. It is a true breakthrough.

By passing Prop. 47, California voters show that they understand that the policies of the past have failed and that we cannot incarcerate our way to safety. Californians do not want to waste any more costly prison space on nonviolent, non-serious offenses – or our precious justice resources on ineffective policies that drain tax dollars, lead to high recidivism rates and tear apart communities.

Prop. 47’s passage shows what is possible when a diverse coalition comes together to fix the serious problems we collectively face. We built this campaign with unlikely allies and people of all walks of life: liberals and conservatives, law enforcement veterans, crime victims, teachers, business and labor, faith leaders, civil rights champions and more. This is the kind of collaboration that the public craves – putting aside differences to advance smart policies that improve the lives of all Californians.

By passing Prop. 47, California voters show that they understand that the policies of the past have failed and that we cannot incarcerate our way to safety.

The Prop. 47 victory is a rallying cry for leaders in local, state and national government. The public clearly supports replacing bloated, costly and ineffective prison systems with smarter approaches focused on preventing crime.

Proposition 47 is a huge victory for the state –and for criminal justice reform advocates across the nation.

Lenore Anderson is chair of the ballot committee for Proposition 47, Californians for Safe Neighborhoods and Schools, and executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit working since 2012 to advance smart justice approaches that improve safety and reduce costs. For more information, contact Mike Smith at mike@safeandjust.org.

California voters pass Proposition 47 sentencing reform

by Marc Mauer, Sentencing Project

We applaud the voters of California for passing Proposition 47, a ballot measure that reclassifies six low-level property and drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. These offenses include shoplifting, theft and check fraud under $950, as well as personal use of most illegal drugs.

State savings resulting from the measure are estimated to be at least $150 million a year and will be used to support school truancy and dropout prevention, victim services, mental health and drug abuse treatment and other programs designed to expand alternatives to incarceration.

This historic vote demonstrates support to advance a public safety strategy beyond incarceration to include treatment and prevention. The measure allows individuals currently serving prison terms for eligible offenses to apply to have their felony sentences reduced to misdemeanors and persons who have completed their felony sentence to apply to the court to have their conviction changed to a misdemeanor. Approximately 10,000 incarcerated persons will be eligible for resentencing under the new law.

Since California reached its peak prison population in 2006, prisoner counts have fallen every year. This dramatic change was primarily driven by the state’s efforts to comply with a court order to reduce prison overcrowding.

This historic vote demonstrates support to advance a public safety strategy beyond incarceration to include treatment and prevention.

In a significant 2011 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Plata found the provision of health care in the California prison system to be constitutionally inadequate due to the severe overcrowding in the system; the state was required to reduce this figure to 137.5 percent of design capacity within two years.

Through “Realignment,” the state has made substantial reductions in its prison population but has yet to reach the court-stipulated level. Changes in policy and practice have resulted in higher jail populations, but also substantial numbers of people now under community supervision rather than state prison.

The changes in policy in California have generally targeted sentencing reforms to persons with low-level offenses, but these initiatives represent only one aspect of a broader strategy towards prison population reduction. There are over 40,000 individuals serving life prison terms in California.

While most of these individuals have been convicted of serious offenses, research has shown that such prisoners who are released have low rates of recidivism. Long-term sentencing reform will also need to focus on enacting policies and practices to provide opportunities to distinguish among individual offense circumstances, accomplishments in prison, and degree of risk to public safety.

California’s historic vote should be particularly instructive for all concerned with excessively high prison populations. Coming after a nearly four-decade rise in imprisonment, the substantial reductions in California due to changes like Proposition 47 demonstrate the possibility of achieving pragmatic reforms to address mass incarceration.

Marc Mauer is executive director of The Sentencing Project, which works for a fair and effective U.S. justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing policy, addressing unjust racial disparities and practices, and advocating for alternatives to incarceration. He can be reached via staff@sentencingproject.org.

Tags

Filed Under: California and the U.S.
Tags:

7 thoughts on “Advocates celebrate Prop. 47 victory against mass incarceration and war on drugs but raise concerns about where the funding will go: four perspectives

  1. Patricia Ferguson

    I’m so happy this proposition has passed because I have a now 21 yr old son who since 19 yrs old has decided to do drugs and has caught 12 misdemeanor cases with 1 felony for petty theft! He has suffered with mental illness since middle school!

    Reply
  2. my paper writing

    Drugs is very bad habit because use the drugs causes for death so always avoid this type of things. Some students in young stage starting the use of bear and drugs so with the passage of time destroy the future so always students avoid and concentrate the study.

    Reply
  3. williamelite

    I agree that marijuana charges should be less stiff, we are living in a time where people are realizing the benefits of marijuana. Also adults could handle marijuana just as alcohol and use in moderation I do not see this being a problem. I do however see a problem if someone does not know how to beat marijuana addiction after it develops. This is when jobs, work, school and overall health and safety can be at risk.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

BayView Classifieds - ads, opportunities, announcements