The Aftermath of California’s Prop. 47

Maureen MurdockAddiction, Criminal Justice System14 Comments

The passage of Proposition 47 in California reduced felonies for low-level crimes like drug possession to misdemeanors thereby decreasing prison time from several years to up to a year in jail instead. The intention of Prop. 47 was to use the money saved from incarcerating drug offenders to rehabilitating them in programs for both substance abuse and mental illness. Nearly 40% of inmates in city jails suffer from a mental illness.

However, the new law has had the effect of changing the calculus of Drug Courts, a program started in Los Angeles in the 1990s. Drug Court, which has been an alternative to prison sentences for people with addictions, provides substance abuse treatment for defendants with low-level felony drug or theft cases. If a participant flunks out of the treatment program, he or she is incarcerated with a felony. Studies have shown that Drug Court works: there is less recidivism among California drug court participants than among non-drug court mandated treatment. Doug Marlowe, of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, states that it’s unrealistic to expect addicts to sign on to the program without a felony hanging over their heads.

So California is left with a dilemma. Will Prop. 47 lead to more effective treatment or less? Supporters of Prop. 47 argue that the initiative will ensure that treatment beds are available for addicts who want them, not those who are trying to avoid incarceration. Graduates of Drug Court state that treatment while in jail treatment centers (or “pods”) changed their lives, a testimony to the importance of treatment whether in or out of jail.

It seems that the early result of the passage of Prop. 47 has been to let low-level drug offenders out of prison but there has been no corresponding increase in treatment facilities and professional staff with the knowledge, skills or credentials needed to provide the full range of evidence-based services, including medication and psychosocial therapy. It was the intent of the voters of Prop 47 to support the creation of effective treatment facilities and housing for the mentally ill and those who suffer from substance abuse. For prison reform to work as intended, the state needs to focus on and expedite this part of Prop. 47.

14 Comments on “The Aftermath of California’s Prop. 47”

  1. I work for a community college police department and we have seen an alarming increase in property theft and strong arm robberies since the passing of Prop 47. Is there a measure to increase victims’ rights? Currently, victims are not entitled to reimbursement for property theft from the county unless a perpetrator is arrested and convicted. A friend had her purse stolen and while she was “fortunate enough” to only have lost around $50 cash (which she actually couldn’t afford to lose) she only had one set of car keys – which resulted in her having to get her car towed to the dealer and the ignition rekeyed (which cost her around $300.) I understand there’s no way to prove that a Prop 47 releasee took her purse, but it does raise an alarming fact – that as the rate of available prison beds go up, the rate of victims is also increasing.

    1. Thank you for your comments. I have seen newspaper articles referring to the increase in property theft since the passing of 47. And I am sorry that your friend was a victim of theft. You’re right, there is no way to prove that a Prop 47 releasee took her purse. In fact, my house was burgled before Prop 47 was introduced or passed and the police never came out to take a police report in spite of there being over $20,000 worth of my mother’s jewelry taken. So I haven’t seen much attention to victim’s rights. If there was more attention to rehabilitation and job training while inmates were incarcerated and they could actually get a job after serving their time, perhaps we would see less property theft. I hope so.

  2. It always makes sense to save money in the big picture by helping people learn to live better lives than simply packing them off to expensive jails when they might really benefit from therapy, vocational development, education, and positive supervision. Big duh!

  3. Hi Maureen–I always eagerly read all your Hooked on Hope blogs–this was really interesting to me as I know nothing much about California law–keep up the good work which is educating all of us. Happy Holidays!

  4. Thanks for all you are you doing Maureen to raise awareness about the realities of this legislation and to promote action to ensure the intent of it is carried out, I appreciate your updates.

  5. Actually the first drug court and California was in Santa Maria in 1991 followed very quickly by Santa Barbara within a month or two.I actually have video of our first drug court conference held in 1991 with the charges from Miami Dade County where drug court started.

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  6. I disagree with Mr. Marlowe thinking addicts need to be manipulated to recover. That approach perpetuates the lying, cheating, stealing environment that they survive in. Teaching them to tell the truth is a much simpler solution. Properly directing the savings from releasing prisoners to mental health and rehabilitation is the important follow thru here. I expect it will take awhile as none of the due process was considered by the authors of the bill.

    1. You’re right, Mary Pat that it will take awhile because none of the due process was factored in by the authors of the bill but CA is saving hundreds of thousands of dollars by releasing inmates so we have to hold Governor Brown accountable for the addiction and mental health treatment and rehabilitation he promised.

  7. Well said, Maureen! I know Drug Court has worked and more needs to be done. I also know here in Santa Barbara Teen Court used with adolescents in a similar way has greatly helped these young people to regain their lives. Do you have ideas about how our efforts might be most effective in assuring that the Prop 47 programs are well funded?

    1. I think the first step is to write Governor Brown, Senator Hannah Beth Jackson, and Assemblyman Das Williams and ask them to stay on top of funding treatment programs and housing for those with a mental illness and substance abuse. The more info about the brain that Brown, et al. receive from professionals, like yourself, the better.

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