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On April 7th, the California Senate Budget Subcommittee on Corrections, Public Safety, and the Judiciary (“Budget Sub. 5”) held a hearing to discuss important criminal justice policy. The hearing agenda put special focus on the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC), the agency that will be responsible for distributing 65 percent of Prop. 47 state savings and $250 million in jail construction funding proposed in the Governor’s FY 2016 – 17 budget. On April 14, the BSCC Board approved the ESC that will create an application, and decide which organizations receive funding derived from Prop. 47 state savings.

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There have been emerging concerns regarding how Prop. 47 savings will be reinvested into communities due to the BSCC’s reputation for prioritizing the voices of law enforcement on decision-making subcommittees, or executive steering committees (ESCs), over members of the communities most affected by criminal justice policy. CJCJ’s Director of Policy and Development, Brian Goldstein, testified before the Senate subcommittee as such, stating, “[P]olicy making at the agency is overwhelmingly dominated by law enforcement. There are few community members, direct service providers, young people, or formerly incarcerated people on executive steering committees or in leadership positions.”

Proposition 47, passed in November 2014, changed some non-serious, nonviolent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. Additionally, the initiative was retroactive, which allowed people convicted of the applicable, nonviolent offenses to receive shorter sentences or to be released early. As such, the new law resulted in a decrease of the statewide prison population.

This population drop and other facets of the law have generated state savings. At present, Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2016 – 17, estimates these savings to amount to $29.3 million (though many, including the Legislative Analyst’s Office and the California Budget and Policy Center, disagree with this calculation). Whatever the final amount, the law instructs that 65 percent of the Prop. 47 savings are distributed by the BSCC to public agencies for substance abuse and mental health treatment, and other recidivism measures. As legislated by Assembly Bill (AB) 1056, funding priority will be awarded to agencies that partner with community-based organizations.

CJCJ’s Brian Goldstein testifies before the Senate Budget Sub 5

In January 2016, the BSCC conducted a series of regional meetings allowing input from the public about how the money should be spent and encouraging community involvement. Comments from the public showed overwhelming support for Proposition 47 and its mandates, however as Brian Goldstein stated, There was also distrust, distrust in the state, distrust in the BSCC in their ability to make the [executive steering committees] transparent and inclusive. And there was also distrust that the agency would ultimately fund the necessary programs.”

On March 14, this mistrust was heightened when the BSCC sent a letter stating that non-governmental employees who serve on executive steering committees (ESCs) may be in financial conflict of interest and their organization could not apply for funding. This same conflict of interest rule does not apply to government employees, like sheriffs, who serve on ESCs and apply for funding, but cannot rate or vote on their own funding proposals. At the Senate Budget Sub. 5 hearing, Subcommittee Chair, Loni Hancock, motioned to introduce a legislative change that would allow nonprofits and direct service providers to both participate in the BSCC’s stakeholder process and apply for funding for programs.

While the recently formed Prop. 47 ESC is balanced and includes 13 (out of 21) community leaders, nonprofit employees are paying a higher price to be involved in the decision-making process than their law enforcement colleagues. As Brian Goldstein stated in his testimony, The BSCC’s stakeholder process can work … when our partners aren’t asked to pay an unfair price to represent their communities.” The final Prop. 47 state savings calculation will be finalized in the beginning of July.