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Proposition 47, the Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act, passed by California voters in November 2014, effectively reduced the status of several low-level property and drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.

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While Prop 47 mandates that state budget savings, resulting from a drop in prison populations, be transferred to a fund that supports mental health and substance abuse treatment programs, school truancy, drop-out prevention, and victim services; there is no mandate that Prop 47 county budget savings resulting from a drop in jail populations, be reinvested into community programs or services.

Since the passage of Prop 47, state prison and local jail populations have seen significant population decreases. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDRC) recently reported 4,500 releases attributable to Prop 47 in the initial months after implementation. The Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) reported that California’s county jail population decreased by approximately 9,000 between October 2014 and March 2015, many of which may be attributable to Prop 47. Considering that recidivism is costly and detrimental to people, families, and communities, it is important that county-level Prop 47 savings are realized and reinvested into community-based programs that provide reentry and recidivism reduction services.

So what exactly has been happening with county-level Prop 47 cost savings across California? Many counties have not yet figured this out. In December 2015, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (BOS) directed the Department of Auditor-Controller to analyze methods by which the eight impacted county departments[i] were measuring the costs, savings, and service improvements (or declines) associated with implementation. In an April letter to the LA BOS, the Auditor-Controller reported that none of the eight affected departments had methods in place to measure such impacts.

CJCJ, in a September 2014 research brief, proposed a formula based on the one used by the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) to estimate potential countywide savings and freed jail capacity, using three counties as an example. The brief also posits that additional savings to counties will result from reduced probation populations and lower court and law enforcement costs for managing people with misdemeanors rather than felonies. In October 2014, CJCJ published another research brief that extended this cost savings analysis to all 58 California counties. 

California counties should research and implement best practices to track and measure the impacts of Prop 47 and make the data publicly accessible. The LAO and CJCJ methods are a good place to start. County boards of supervisors across the state should initiate audits of impacted departments to determine Prop 47 related cost savings and impacts. County officials also need to reach out to community groups working with the reentry population and include them in the policy and decision-making processes. Community organizations on the outside are the key to building robust and successful programs that help formerly incarcerated people improve their lives and end the cycle of recidivism.

To mobilize around the reinvestment of county-level Prop 47 cost savings, Californians can also look at community-based efforts to steer Public Safety Realignment funds into reentry programs and services. Shortly after Realignment passed, Contra Costa County implemented decarceration policies and allocated 60 percent of Realignment funds to community based re-entry programs and services. As a result of their early efforts and funding, Contra Costa County achieved a substantial 21% drop in recidivism and became a model state program.

The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, launched their Jobs Not Jails campaign in Alameda County upon discovering that only a small percentage of the county Realignment budget funds were being allocated for community organizations that work to reduce recidivism, provide alternatives to incarceration, and/​or mental health and substance abuse treatment services. They also found that more than 60% of the funds (as well as an additional 10% from the General Fund) were allocated to law enforcement. Their campaign successfully convinced the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to issue a directive to allocate 50% of county Realignment funding into community based reentry and recidivism reduction programs.

Local policymakers and community-based organizations need to better track Prop 47’s local implementation and impact. This will insure that local savings are realized and reinvested in those reentry programs and services that help people improve their lives and benefit their communities.

[i] The eight LA County departments analyzed include: Sheriff’s Department, Probation Department, District Attorney, Public Defender, Alternative Public Defender, Department of Health Services, Department of Public Health, and Department of Mental Health.