California Proposition 47 Guide
For decades, California’s mindless “tough on crime” policies have led to overcrowded prisons, bloated budgets, and families torn apart by harsh sentences imposed for nonviolent crimes. Recognizing that prisons filled to more than 144 percent of capacity jeopardize the health and safety of inmates and prison staff alike, federal courts have ordered California to release prisoners.
The state’s voters finally had enough. On November 4, voters sent a clear message to legislators that they should stop wasting lives and dollars. Voters passed Proposition 47, a law that shifts the state’s philosophy for nonviolent crimes from punishment to prevention.
What does Proposition 47 do?
Known as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, Prop 47 is designed to ensure that prison spending is focused on offenders who commit violent crimes like rape and child molestation. The savings from prison population reductions will be invested in crime prevention programs. The law achieves those goals by doing the following:
Reducing the severity of certain nonviolent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.
- Authorizing courts to resentence offenders who were sentenced for felonies that are now misdemeanors if, after conducting a risk assessment that includes a review of the offender’s criminal record, the court concludes that a sentence reduction would not pose a risk to public safety.
- Creating the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund. More than half of the fund will be dedicated to drug treatment and mental health programs to prevent recidivism. Other funds will be allocated to educational programs for crime prevention and to trauma recovery services for crime victims.
Proponents of the law estimated that it would result in a cost reduction of $150 million to $250 million per year. By spending that money on crime prevention programs rather than the warehousing of nonviolent offenders, Prop 47 is meant to have a significant impact on crime rates. At the same time, nonviolent offenders will be able to work to support their families and to pursue productive lives.
Similar reforms have been successful in other states. Texas leads the nation in its innovative program to divert nonviolent offenders from prison. By keeping nonviolent offenders away from hardened criminals while providing them with rehabilitative opportunities that include treatment programs and job training, Texas gives people convicted of nonviolent crimes the opportunity to change their thinking and to avoid a return to crime. As a result, Texas has closed three prisons, has assured that most paroled offenders are employed, and has benefited from a reduced crime rate.