As Election Day brought a Democratic sweep in all major leadership positions in Sacramento, 58 percent of California voters said that a number of crimes previously charged as felonies are now misdemeanors.
Proposition 47 passed Nov. 4 causing the penalty of certain crimes to be reduced, including some drug-possession offenses, petty theft, receiving stolen property and forging/writing bad checks when amount involved is $950 or less.
Known as The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, persons with previous convictions for crimes such as rape, murder or child molestation are excluded, as are registered sex offenders. For them, the offense is still a felony.
Offenders currently serving felony sentences for the listed crimes have the opportunity to appear before a judge to have their sentences reduced to the misdemeanor term. In order for a defendant to benefit from Proposition 47, a thorough review of the defendant’s criminal history and risk assessment has to be made to ensure that they “do not pose a risk to the public,” according to a report by Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB).
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations (CDCR) estimates that approximately 4,770 state prison inmates (as of Nov. 4) would be eligible to petition a court for resentencing, according to the CDCR press office.
The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) estimates that about 40,000 people are convicted yearly of the specified crimes and would be affected by the measure but acknowledges this estimate may be off by several thousand.
“Should these offenses become misdemeanors, most people convicted of the offenses would no longer be eligible for state prison, resulting in an ongoing drop of several thousand in the prison population,” the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) reported in a September study. The savings from reduced prison populations and reduced burdens on state courts would be in “the low hundreds of millions of dollars annually,” the LAO concluded. In a subsequent study in October, CJCJ said that Proposition 47 would result in 10,000 to 30,000 jail beds potentially freed across the state, which translates to annual county savings of $400 million to $700 million.
The money saved from implementing the measure would be distributed as follows: 25 percent to the Department of Education to reduce truancy and support at-risk students or victims of crime, 10 percent to the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board for trauma recovery centers, and 65 percent to the Board of State and Community Correction for grants to public agencies providing mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment to reduce recidivism of people in the justice system.
Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice — Three Counties:
CJCJ examined Los Angeles, San Diego and San Joaquin counties to determine the dollar amount each could save because of the passage of Proposition 47.
“Los Angeles County should save between $99.9 million and $174.8 million, San Diego County between $28.4 million and $49.7 million, and San Joaquin County between $6.8 million and $12.0 million,” annually according to CJCJ.
The CJCJ savings analysis accounted for the empty beds that the three counties would be created because of the fewer felony convictions. All of these beds would not necessarily be empty; many counties struggle with jail overcrowding. They would likely use a portion of the beds to reduce early releases. Across California, more than 10,000 people are released early from jail each month to relieve crowding. This includes approximately 1,500 people in Los Angeles County, 900 in San Diego County and 500 in San Joaquin County, according to the Board of State and Community Corrections.
In the top ten counties affected by Proposition 47, the average savings for each county is a low of $28.5 million and a high of $49.9 million. See, Top Ten California Counties Table.
According to CURB, “California has a history of defining criminal justice policy through ballot initiatives.” CURB reported that the measure includes “provisions that appeal to racism, and have strengthened aspects of ‘tough on crime’ politics. Some provisions reinforce ‘business as usual’ policy practices that harm communities of color by funneling state funds into destructive questionable ‘crime prevention’ programs.”
–By Juan Haines