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New Report: Proposition 20 Would Come at a High Cost to Californians

CALIFORNIA – A new report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) analyzes a November 2020 ballot measure, Proposition 20, that seeks to roll back key elements of recent justice reforms, including Public Safety Realignment, Prop 47, and Prop 57. As California continues to disproportionately arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate Black, Indigenous, and Latino people, this proposal will particularly harm communities of color.

This report finds that Proposition 20 could affect an already budget-constrained California in the following ways:

  • Generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new annual spending on law enforcement and incarceration, further limiting the availability of critical community resources.

  • Crowd prisons and jails, exacerbating unsafe and unhealthy living conditions.

  • Interrupt California’s record-low rates of crime by increasing recidivism and potentially diverting resources from rehabilitative programs and community-based services.

  • Devastate families and communities, particularly communities of color, by incarcerating more Californians and erecting lifelong barriers to education, housing, and employment.
Crime remains at unprecedented low levels amid recent justice reforms

California’s recent criminal justice reforms have generated hundreds of millions of dollars in cost savings for state and local governments. This boosts investments in housing, mental health services, and other critical programs for communities impacted by mass incarceration. Moreover, these reforms have reduced jail and prison populations, which has reversed dangerous overcrowding and brought facilities into compliance with federal mandates. In the face of falling incarceration, crime rates have continued a steady decline, decreasing by 10 percent since 2010.

CJCJ Senior Research Fellow and report co-author, Mike Males, Ph.D., explains: “State prisons have already reported serious COVID-19 outbreaks. This initiative would crowd prisons and jails, putting incarcerated people in even closer quarters, with potentially deadly consequences.” He adds, “We estimate that Proposition 20 could cost California roughly $150 to $450 million per year. This is equivalent to the state’s total spending to fight air pollution in the most burdened communities. In the midst of a public health emergency and economic crisis, the initiative would divert already limited funds away from medical and social services that address urgent needs.” 

Proposition 20 seeks to make a patchwork of changes to California’s justice system, including increased penalties for some low-level offenses and reduced opportunities for incarcerated people to earn credit through prison rehabilitation programs. Contributions of more than $4 million for the initiative have come from supporters including law enforcement groups, several state and local officials, and retail interest groups. 

CJCJ Policy Analyst and report co-author, Maureen Washburn, expands: “The initiative would pull back on critical efforts to reform a historically inhumane and biased justice system. California is beginning to correct its role in mass incarceration by moving investments from an overbuilt justice system towards long-term, community-based solutions. Proposition 20 would cut progress short and harm Californians—especially Black, Indigenous, and Latino communities—for generations to come.”

Read Investing in Failure: 2020 Ballot Initiative to Repeal Justice Reform Would Come at a High Cost to Californians >>

Contact: For more information about this topic or to schedule an interview, please contact CJCJ Communications at (415) 621-5661 x. 103 or cjcjmedia@cjcj.org.

Keywords: Maureen Washburn, Mike Males, Prop 47, Prop 57, Public Safety Realignment

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