California’s Proposition 47 Passed. Now What?

by on November 7, 2014 · 1 comment

in California, Civil Rights, Economy, Election, History, Organizing, Politics

ca_prison21By Doug Porter

One of the big electoral victories for what I’d call sane people this week was the passage of Proposition 47. Simple drug possession and property crimes valued under $950 are now misdemeanors, effective immediately, punishable by up to a year in a county jail.

Law and order–or should I call them “lock ‘em and leave ‘em”– types are taking to the airwaves to fan the kind of (mostly irrational) fears responsible for California’s decades long dance with draconian detention policies.

Local media throughout the state are publishing stories about issues being raised with prosecutors offices. The Los Angeles Times account includes a plea from the City Attorney for funding to hire more staff to deal with misdemeanor prosecutions.

From NBC7 News:

That means a lot of changes for prosecutors handling those type of cases. Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Greenberg said his office will hand off about 3,000 defendants’ cases to the San Diego City Attorney’s Office, which deals with misdemeanors.

“They’re absolutely going to be impacted, so they’re going to have to figure out their staffing,” he said. “They’re going to be receiving up to maybe 280 to 300 new defendants a month that they’re going to have to review and then make decisions on.”

It’s funny how none of these stories tell us about what the DA’s who formerly handled those felony prosecutions will be doing now that their workloads are decreasing. While felonies and misdemeanors are handled by different agencies in California, it doesn’t seem like it would be too difficult to figure out how this problem might be solved.

Be Very Afraid

Be afraidIn some areas of California the pushback against Proposition 47’s passage amounts to denial by some law enforcement agencies.

From Fresno’s KFSN ABC30/News, where the headline was all about increased crime rates:

“What we’ve seen through realignment, now through the passage of Prop 47 is really a de-criminalization of crime that sends the message that we won’t hold people accountable,” Chief Dyer said.

And at Sacramento’s KCRA:

“It’s going to increase crime,” said Mike Rushford, of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a victims’ rights legal group. Rushford worries that public safety will be compromised under Prop 47.

“There are going to be more guns on the street under this law,” he said Wednesday, “because it’s easier to steal the gun and the penalties are lower….”

…And because drug possession is now a misdemeanor, prosecutors like Sacramento District Attorney Jan Scully are truly concerned “that our treatment courts are going to dry up because people will not want to go through that work because there’s no price to pay if they don’t.”

UPDATE: Media Matters reports that a Fox News panel says California voters were tricked.

On the November 6 edition of Happening Now, hosts Heather Nauert and Jon Scott hosted a panel that included the author of Proposition 47 to discuss what the legislation would mean for California. Nauert suggested that those who voted for measure may not have known what they were doing. Asking “if the people who voted for that proposition knew what it was really all about,” Nauert called its title “misleading” while Scott mused that “you do have to wonder” about it since “everybody wants safe schools and neighborhoods… but do they know what they were really voting for?”:

A Change in Public Attitude

Proposition 47 didn’t just fall from the sky.

The prison industrial complex created by previous lock ‘em and leave ‘em legislation had become a taxpayer burden and didn’t seem to be doing too much in the way of rehabilitation. The Supreme Court gave California a choice: build more prisons or find another way to address your societal problems.

Furthermore prisons had become the easy way out for authorities to deal with mental health issues.

From Mother Jones:

In California, the number of mentally ill prisoners has doubled over the last 14 years. Mentally ill inmates in state prisons serve an average of 15 months longer. Lockups have become our country’s go-to provider of mental health care: the nation’s three largest mental health providers are jails. There are ten times as many mentally ill people behind bars as in state hospitals. Sixteen percent of inmates have a severe mental illness like schizophrenia, which is two and a half times the rate in the early 1980s. Prop 47 will provide more money for mental health programs that have been proven to drop incarceration rates. For example, when Nevada County, California started an Assisted Outpatient Treatment program, average jail times for the mentally ill dropped from 521 days to just 17.

Keeping drug users out of prison and putting more money into drug treatment is probably the most commonsense change that will come out of the measure. Sixteen percent of state prisoners and half of federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug offenses. Yet there is growing evidence that incarceration does not reduce drug addiction. And while 65 percent of US inmates are drug addicts, only 11 percent receive treatment in prison.

Since I’ve mentioned Nevada County, California, I’d like to include a passage from an op ed published in their newspaper, The Union, that deals with many of the actual facts:

California incarcerates about 127,000 inmates at a cost of $47,102 each yearly, yet we only spend $8,482 per student. While we skimp on the schools, there is always enough money to lock up petty thieves and drug addicts. This misguided warehousing of nonviolent offenders might be justified if incarceration really led to rehabilitation, but it doesn’t.

California has a three-year recidivism rate of 65 percent. Inmates leave prison with no skills and a felony conviction. The one thing they do learn in prison is how to be better criminals, so without a job or tools, more than half return to drug use and crime. Proposition 47 would save $150 — $250 million by putting fewer of these low-level offenders in prison. Those savings would be passed on to the schools, victim services, and mental health and addiction treatment.

According to a brief by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, San Diego County will save between $28.4 million and $49.7 million annually with the implementation of Prop. 47. Most of these savings will accrue from freed jail capacity, with 700 to 2,100 beds freed in San Diego County.


The Yes On 47 Ground Game

Locally, Alliance San Diego was part of concerted statewide effort to get out the vote that included increasing awareness about Proposition 47.

According to the California Calls Action Fund:

The California Calls Action Fund “Yes on Prop 47” in partnership with PICO California Action Fund rolled out a 4-1/2 week statewide get-out-the-vote operation, contacting over 300,000 infrequent voters, and identifying 250,000 “yes” votes for Prop 47…

“We have been laying the foundation for this victory for years, organizing to expand the electorate by targeting young people, new citizens, people of color, and working families who are typically overlooked by electoral campaigns and the polls,” said Anthony Thigpenn, President of California Calls Action Fund “Yes on Prop 47.” “California’s electorate is increasingly more reflective of the population that lives here, and more diverse than the national electorate.” According to exit polls, 37% of the California electorate on Tuesday was comprised of Latino, African-American, and API voters, compared to only 25% nationally. This contrasts with only 22% of people of color voters in California when the “Three Strikes” initiative (Prop 184) passed in 1994.

Nearly 8,000 grassroots leaders phoned and walked door to door to new and infrequent voters in 14 Counties of California: Sacramento, Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Fresno, Kern, San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Ventura and Santa Barbara. The coordinated grassroots effort re-contacted 40,000 supporters in the four days before the election to motivate them to the polls on November 4.

alliance sd screenshotFaith groups, organized labor, civil liberties organizations and educators throughout California were part of the coalition working to get Prop 47 passed.

There are going to be problems with the changes required by this new law. After all, it was passed as an initiative, a process which forgoes the usual committee hearing process. The upside of this “problem” is that Prop 47 isn’t filled with exceptions and loopholes inserted at the request of various lobbyists. And the legislature had plenty of opportunities to write a “better” law, but didn’t.

Some treatment and mental health facilities won’t be funded or created until actual savings from reducing incarceration are realized. Some public defender offices are going to be stressed with the increased workload caused by inmates seeking petitions for release or reclassification.

Somehow, I think we’ll all get through this. And when we do, California will have, once again, shown the way for the rest of the country.

This is an excerpt from Doug Porter’s daily column at our online media partner, San Diego Free Press.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

David Winters November 7, 2014 at 11:54 am

Doug, thank you for the information and the process of how this is supposed to play out. I wish you could include the amount of time it would take for this to have a financial impact on the citizens of this state. Over the course of 26 years in law enfocement I have observed crminals come in and out of the system. Drugs have always been the number one reason for the crimes. I felt as a law enforcement officer and one who oversees security for Drug Court attendees that this law will be detrimental for those people who are trying to make a go of it. I have seen with the accountability issue for them of going to jail for their drug crimes they would stay in the program. Now that we are looking at the reduction in classification of that crime the general attitude would be..oh well ….a citation to appear…maybe 120 days in jail reduced in time due to AB109 and 1022 standards …hmmm…..30 days if that. What this law did not take into account was the cost to the public for retrying or reviewing these cases by the Public Defenders office. This is going to cost us alot of money more than what is going to be saved. If we do not hold people accountable for their actions then those actions will continue and then others will suffer. Take care and thanks!


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