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Voter Approved Initiative to Bring Common Sense to Sentencing Reshaping Corrections Practices

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March 2, 2016

In 2014 California voters strongly passed Proposition 47. Its goal is to reduce the huge number of people incarcerated in California for relatively small crimes, a number that had been growing far faster than population growth.

Prop. 47 authorizes the release of persons convicted and jailed for two types of crime: petty property crimes where the value of the goods was below $950 (typically theft, forgery, etc.), and personal use of illegal drugs. Violent crimes are excluded.

The initiative is working. Today there are fewer small crime perpetrators in prison. Money is being saved and some is being redirected to rehabilitation. But there also are widespread differences in its application and unresolved challenges in its goal to steer petty criminals into productive, responsible lives.

Governor Jerry Brown estimates that this year Prop. 47 will reduce prison population by 4,700 and save the state $29 million. The independent Legislative Analyst says the savings could easily be triple that.

Two-thirds of the savings must be used to reduce recidivism. Another quarter goes to reduce school truancy, a significant path to entry-level crime. Yet much work remains to be done to achieve the measure’s full potential.

Prop. 47 was supported by the California Catholic Conference in 2014, and Restorative Justice ministers around the state are actively engaged in improving it, reflecting the Church’s involvement in promoting justice in the modern world.  

The belief in social justice for all is very much at the core of today’s Catholic community.  The Church in California (and the rest of the world) is heavily involved in efforts to protect at-risk populations and improve safety for people living in dangerous neighborhoods.

On returning from Ciudad Juarez where he joined Pope Francis at Mass, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez noted that “It was clearly an emotional week for the pope, trying to bring a word of hope and mercy to some of the poorest and most oppressed people in this hemisphere.”

That sense was reflected in the California Bishops’ firm support for Prop. 47 on the November 2014 ballot, when they emphasized “we are dealing with real human lives, with complicated social dynamics and with the need to balance accountability, justice and fairness in our justice system.”

The bishops saw positive potential in Prop. 47, emphasizing that “The criminal justice system in California remains desperately in need of significant reform,” adding “Prisons do not make good schools or good mental health programs.

“Victims are not receiving much needed assistance in healing, the State’s overcrowded prisons are under Federal scrutiny, and rehabilitation programs barely exist in the State’s prisons.   An inconsistent patchwork of sentencing practices has been a major contributor to this unhealthy situation.”

Prop. 47 was recognized as an early step--not the final one--toward improving some of those problems.

For more information on how Prop. 47 is working around the state, read the Public Policy Institute of California report, Do Local Realignment Policies Affect Recidivism in California?

“In the aftermath of California’s corrections realignment, recidivism patterns did not change dramatically among offenders released from state prison to county supervision,” concludes the report. “But early evidence suggests that offenders did better if they were released to counties that emphasized reentry services rather than traditional law enforcement.”

The Judicial Council of California also has a spread sheet on the number of petitions for resentencing filed in each county.