Reclassification as a Means for Integration: The Positives of Prop 47

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If you are in jail, imagine having your prior felony reclassified as a misdemeanor so that you no longer face six years in prison for stealing $10 worth of merchandise (anecdote to be shared below). Or, if you are released in society, imagine having your criminal record adjusted so you are no longer barred from receiving federal welfare, student grants, or medical care. (PDF pages 9-10). You also are no longer excluded from employment in care facilities, including child-care jobs, and you might no longer face automatic disqualification if potential employers discover your conviction records. (Although technically it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an individual based on an individual’s criminal record, it certainly still happens). Further, if you are an undocumented immigrant, a parent, and facing deportation, your adjusted criminal record may qualify you for protection under Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA). (PDF page 5). Also, if you are undocumented, facing deportation, and entered the United States before you were sixteen, your adjusted criminal record may qualify you for protection under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). (PDF page 5).

All four groups of people described above did not have these freedoms or protections prior to Prop 47’s passage. In addition to reducing prison and jail populations along with infrastructural costs, Prop 47 strove to change certain individuals’ felony records, improving the social and financial status of these individuals who had previously committed non-violent drug possession or petty theft crimes. Reclassification is not instantaneous, but it helps nonviolent offenders receive the financial support and employment opportunities necessary to become more fully integrated in society.

Continue reading “Reclassification as a Means for Integration: The Positives of Prop 47”

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Brown Better Have My Money! Part 2: Who manages Prop 47’s savings?

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Prop 47 reclassified several drug possession and petty theft crimes into misdemeanors. This change permitted state prison and county jail inmates to have their sentences adjusted in order to reflect this change. Ideally, this would decrease populations in both prisons and jails, decreases that would save both the state of California and California counties money. California counties fund and manage jails whereas the state of California manages prisons. Any money saved at the county level would be kept amongst the counties.

I.  How savings were supposed to be calculated

The California Director of Finance calculates Prop 47 prison savings and transfers that money from the General Fund into the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund.” (PDF page 7). Then, the money will be distributed to local communities. 25% of the savings will go to K-12 public schools’ truancy prevention programs, 65% will fund mental health and substance abuse treatment programs, and the remaining 10% will go to the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board. (PDF page 8).

In January, Governor Brown released his proposed budget for the 2016–2017 year, reporting that there were 4,700 fewer inmates in California state prisons thanks to Prop 47. Accordingly, the Director of Finance calculated $29.3 million in savings that would be placed into the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund.” But many felt that this amount is too small. The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), while agreeing with the 4,700-inmate decrease, disagreed with the governor’s estimate of how much housing a prisoner actually costs in California.

Continue reading “Brown Better Have My Money! Part 2: Who manages Prop 47’s savings?”

Brown Better Have My Money! The Prop 47 Savings Controversy

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Original Prop 47 Advertisement

Photo Credit: Obey Giant, November 3, 2014

In order to pass Proposition 47, proponents needed to appeal to California voters and taxpayers. Hence, Prop 47 was entitled the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act”. The proposition stipulated that its passage would save money due to the reclassification of nine felonies into misdemeanors and that these savings would be sent to local communities to be allocated for specific programs. Counties could use these funds to support substance abuse treatment programs and other mental health services for their parolee and inmate populations. In addition, counties could invest in victims’ services as well as K-12 public school truancy and dropout prevention programs. (PDF page 7).

Today, California voters are wondering if the state is filling its Prop 47 promise, the promise to spend fewer tax dollars on the punishment of nonviolent drug users and petty thieves. Voters wanted to spend more money on schools and mental health services, less money on long-term incarceration. Unfortunately, the state has recently reported that Prop 47 did not save the anticipated funds redirected to local communities.

Click here for details regarding Governor Brown’s contested report Continue reading “Brown Better Have My Money! The Prop 47 Savings Controversy”

Prop 47: Shorter Sentences, Reclassification, and Dispelling the Myth that It’s All for Nothing

It’s February 26, 2016 at 11:00 pm, and you have been pulled over for speeding. An officer, while using his flashlight to examine your driver’s license, notices a plastic bag with white powder on the passenger seat. He takes the bag and arrests you for committing a misdemeanor, the simple possession of cocaine. He takes you to an arresting agency where you are booked, held for up to 48 hours, and are later informed of your misdemeanor charge by a judge.  Bail is set at a misdemeanor-level price of $5,000 (PDF, page 135) and you are able to pay a bail bond company 10% of the bail in order be released with a promise to appear in court. Earlier that day, a homeless drug addict is arrested for petty theft, and is charged with her third misdemeanor. Unlike you, she cannot afford 10% of her bail and will remain in jail until she goes to court. Both of you face a county jail term of no more than six months. Cal. Penal Code § 19.

Had it been February 26, 2014, however, you both would have been arrested for a felony. Initially, the effect would have been the same: both of you would have been booked, held up to 48 hours, and then arraigned. But from then on, the circumstances would become much more severe. Bail for both of you would have been set at a higher felony-level, maybe $25,000 (PDF, page 29). Also, if either of you were found or pleaded guilty, you would have been sentenced to at least 16 months in “county jail-prison” as a non-violent felon. Cal. Penal Code § 18. See also Cal. Penal Code § 1170(h). This lengthened stay in county jail could potentially affect your physical and mental health, increasing your likelihood of recidivism. Further, upon release, the felony conviction would probably prevent you from obtaining employment in law enforcement as well as in positions involving children, the elderly, or disabled people.

Continue reading “Prop 47: Shorter Sentences, Reclassification, and Dispelling the Myth that It’s All for Nothing”

Criminal Injustice: Attempting Reform with Prop 47

Isn’t it an outrage that one of the richest, industrialized nations on this planet incarcerates more people per capita than any other nation on Earth? This reality is indicative of an overly-punitive culture that neglects mental health, drug abuse, and poverty issues by simply locking up people. Common sense dictates that for social and financial reasons, we must lower our prison and jail populations.

So who should we release? In California, voters enacted Prop 47, which reclassified certain felonies, felonies commonly associated with non-violent drug addicts, into misdemeanors. These new misdemeanors are the possession of concentrated cannabis, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. The remaining misdemeanors are shoplifting, forgery, fraud, receipt of stolen property, and car theft of items valued at $950 or less.

When someone commits a misdemeanor, if the arresting officer believes that there is a reasonable likelihood that the individual will continue committing the offense or that the individual presents a harm to property or other persons, the officer may arrest and book the individual. Then, the individual is held for up to 48 hours at an arresting agency (the sheriff’s department, police department, or wherever the individual is booked), is brought before the judge and told of his charges, and then held in county jail until trial unless the individual can post bail.

Absent these factors, the offender must be released. The arresting officer must simply “cite” the offender, or give written notice of their duty to appear in court on a particular date. This mandate is designed to keep many non-threatening drug users as possible out of jail where their mental health is more likely to deteriorate and their rate of recidivism increases.

Some California law enforcement officials complain that Prop 47 only allows them to cite and release these particular offenders. Allegedly, this prevents the officers from stopping the cycle of petty theft and drug abuse. As Kirk Albanese, deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, states, “It’s a vicious cycle . . . [the offender has] an addiction, we are not holding you accountable, and you’re back into the cycle of using. How do you support that habit? Stealing. Our burglaries are up, car theft is up, break-ins are up—they are all up.”

This blog series intends to identify some disconnects between Proposition 47’s language and its implementation by law enforcement, with a focus on the way in which Prop 47 affects local jail and pretrial populations.

As a second year Santa Clara University law student and Santa Clara County native with an educational background from UC Berkeley, I have become more aware of a marginalized population affected by poverty, drug abuse, and mental illness. I want to educate myself regarding California’s latest initiatives for criminal justice reform and become an advocate for indigent clients who are often segregated from society by social stigma and incarceration.