By David Eugene Archer Sr.
At least 13,500 low-level drug offenders were freed from prisons and jails by California voters in 2014, reported USA Today.
“Did Prop 47 help?” the newspaper asked. The answer appears to be “not much.”
Thousands are now homeless, jobless and again committing petty crimes.
The Prop 47 releases exposed the limits of California’s neglected social service programs.
The proposition earmarked millions of dollars saved from prison costs for inmate rehabilitation, but not one penny was spent — even though expanding rehabilitation programs would be infinitely more effective in combating addiction and less expensive than housing people in prison. California has 565,000 drug-dependent adults, and treating them at a cost of $20,000 per person would be less than a third of the cost a year in jail or prison.
“The problem is, if you don’t actually do anything to change conditions of their lives, they’re going to be back on the streets anyway,” Elliot Currie, a criminologist at UC Irvine, told USA Today reporters.
“Prop 47 was not a cure-all. … It is one piece in … the puzzle in our communities”
“What’s to prevent them from going back to the same old ways when they get out? The answer is nothing,” he added.
“Prop 47 was not a cure-all. … It is one piece in … the puzzle in our communities,” said Michael Romano, Stanford law expert.
In 1968 Governor Ronald Reagan closed nine state mental hospitals, but vetoed the transfer of funds for county treatment programs.
“Jails turned into the mental health system, so in many we have to finally grapple with the problem we should’ve fixed in the first place,” Currie said.
AB 109, passed by the state legislature, changed sentencing laws so thousands of non-serious and non-violent offenders were sentenced to county jail, whereas before they would have served time in state prison.
“If we want criminal justice reform and social justice reform to work … it’s about fixing the system that comes out and supports them when they come out,” said Eunisses Hernandez, a Drug Policy Alliance advocate.
Drug court programs that directed offenders into treatment facilities instead of jail are emptying, according to the USA Today report. The enrollment in Los Angeles’ longest-running drug court program has dropped from 80 people to only four.
David Ramage, who leads the drug court program, said Prop 47 “tore it apart.”