California Is Legally Obligated to Lessen Its Prison Population, Prop 47 Diverts Those Savings to Education.

This November 4th, when Californians go to the polls, they will have the opportunity to vote on Proposition 47, the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act. This initiative is a criminal reform to reclassify some nonviolent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, permitting re-sentencing for prisoners serving time for crimes classified as felonies prior to its passage.

The specific crimes that would be reduced from felonies to misdemeanors include nonviolent crimes like theft, forgery, and fraud (when the value of the theft/fraud is under $950), and personal possession of most illegal drugs. 

California currently has a tremendous prison overcrowding problem, and our state is required to do something about this within the next two years. According to Lenore Anderson, the Executive Director of Californians for Safety and Justice, if passed, Proposition 47 could lead to the resentencing of up to 10,000 current inmates (and of course reduce the intake of new inmates), which would go a long way toward making California federally compliant.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office estimates that Prop 47 will save the state hundreds of millions of dollars. That money will be used to create a Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund, which will distribute those savings across three government agencies:

  • Sixty-five percent will go to the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC): Per the 2011 realignment, the BSCC, "inspects for compliance of standards and directs funding for construction of local adult and juvenile detention facilities and ensures that the local jail projects meet recent Legislative mandates to provide program space to rehabilitate offenders," an underfunded and necessary project post-realignment.
  • Twenty-five percent will go to the Department of Education
  • Ten percent will go to the Victim Compensaion and Government Claims Board

Detractors of Proposition 47, primarily law enforcement officials and organizations (as well as the Calfiornia Republican Party), note that the initiative intends to release prisoners. This is factually accurate, and a good goal. We are imprisoning too many people who would be better served in non-carceral and community-based programs. 

It is important to make informed decisions at the polls, especially when human rights issues like prison reform are at stake. Here are some other resources for learning about Proposition 47:

Text of the proposition
League of Women Voters
Yes on 47


Guest author Harry Waksberg is a Riverside-based writer and lazeabout. He watched The House I Live In at synagogue this Yom Kippur. 

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