Governor’s Budget Keeps Prop 47 Savings from Communities

Mass Incarceration

Mass Incarcerationby Margaret Dooley-Sammuli

The governor’s proposed state budget released today includes the current Department of Finance estimate of savings resulting from Proposition 47. This first estimate puts FY 2015-16 savings at just $29.3 million, far below all previous estimates and despite a clearly established reduction in state incarceration of people for low-level offenses in 2015 over previous years. The estimate announced today reflects a largely political choice to calculate savings in a way that keeps taxpayer dollars within the prison system – a clear violation of the voter intent behind Prop 47.

It is unreasonable and disingenuous to claim that Prop 47 has not significantly reduced incarceration costs at the state level. The governor’s intention to keep some Prop 47 savings within the prison system rather than reinvesting the full amount into communities disregards the will of California voters. This betrayal of voter intent must be repaired before the state budget is finalized in the summer.

Passed by 60% of voters in November 2014, Prop 47 reduced six low-level drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. A felony offense requires more court and prison time – and therefore more money – than a misdemeanor, which requires fewer hearings and is punishable by up to one year in jail or three years on probation. A felony conviction also costs more than just taxpayer dollars; it undermines public safety by erecting lifelong barriers to the basic necessities that people require to create stability for themselves and their families. Even decades after a person has served their sentence for a felony (regardless of its severity), that felony record makes it difficult to find housing, get decent-paying work, access student loans and closes other opportunities for self-sufficiency. When they approved Prop 47, Californians agreed that a felony is too severe a punishment for certain petty offenses, specifically drug possession for personal use and petty theft of under $950.

Through Prop 47, voters didn’t just demand that punishment better fit the offense. They demanded that California reinvest the savings – not some, but all the savings – from reduced state incarceration into our communities to prevent low-level crime by addressing people’s underlying needs like mental health, substance use disorders, and school truancy, as well as to expand support for survivors of crime.

In Prop 47’s first year, judges approved the resentencing and release of more than 13,000 people from state prison. Now more people convicted of a petty offense remain at the county level to serve their misdemeanor sentence rather than serving a longer felony sentence in state prison. As a result, the governor’s draft budget projects that the average daily population of the state prison system will be reduced by approximately 4,700. Unfortunately, the current estimate subtracts certain court and supervision costs from Prop 47 savings, effectively allocating these savings back into the correctional system.

Despite today’s disappointing estimate, the announcement does underscore that Prop 47 has delivered on its promises to reduce incarceration and to free up tax dollars to go toward more effective investments in our communities. The ACLU’s Changing Gears: California’s Shift to Smart Justice provides an in-depth look at the first year of implementation and provides a lengthy list of funding sources that counties are already tapping to finance smarter approaches to petty crime, mental illness, and substance use disorders.

The California State Legislature will debate the governor’s proposed budget in coming weeks, before the governor issues a revision in May. Supporters of Prop 47 should contact their representatives to let them know that it is not okay for Prop 47 savings to be kept from communities.

At the same time, community members should be working to influence how exactly Prop 47 dollars will be spent. The entities to watch – and to engage – are the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC), which will distribute 65% of Prop 47 savings through a competitive grant process; the Department of Education (20%); and the Victims Board (10%). The BSCC will hold four public regional meetings in late January to gather input on Californians’ spending priorities: in Fresno, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

Prop 47 gives our state the opportunity to lead the nation in shifting toward smarter approaches to justice. We must not allow that opportunity to be squandered.


About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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8 thoughts on “Governor’s Budget Keeps Prop 47 Savings from Communities”

  1. Davis Progressive

    of course the estimates are far lower, you have law enforcement who doesn’t buy into prop 47, so they are trying to find felonies and stack charges which diminishes the savings.

    the second problem is the lack of money coming into the local communities means far less in services.

    all because law enforcement is trying to make prop 47 fail.

      1. Davis Progressive

        Police and prosecutors say Proposition 47 is responsible for recent increases in crime across California. Advocates argue police have stubbornly failed to adjust their practices to cooperate with its intent…

        Prosecutors say Proposition 47 took away their “felony hammer.” No longer can they hang the threat of significant prison time over drug users, to scare them into treatment. But is this “hammer” really necessary to deal with drug offenders?



        Another article: “Prop. 47 Is Law — Now We Just Need Law Enforcement to Recognize It

        The Push to Imprison California’s Low-Level Offenders 

        i think the vanguard also covered this report:

        A new report from the ACLU of California scolds law enforcement officials for “a disappointing level of resistance” in their response to Proposition 47, the landmark ballot measure that downgraded drug possession and some theft crimes from felonies to misdemeanors a year ago.
        “Some are making irresponsible and inaccurate statements linking Prop. 47 and crime,” the report says. “Others are falsely claiming that they are no longer able to arrest people for petty crime or that a misdemeanor is not a ‘real’ penalty. These statements are both untrue and counterproductive.”

        1. Frankly

          Nothing you posted here is evidence to back this claim:

          so they are trying to find felonies and stack charges which diminishes the savings.

          This points to a coordinated effort.  A conspiracy.

        2. Frankly

          Or it is those professionals in the field that know prop 47 is a bad idea and are doing the public a service by pointing out the actual challenges and problems caused…

  2. Frankly

    Government will never cooperatively downsize.  Savings resulting from a reduction in service need will never meet expectations unless there are mandated cuts to funding.

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