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Prop. 47 savings going where intended at last

June 17, 2017

Countering decades of increasingly draconian and expensive penalties for low-level, non-violent offenses, Proposition 47 offered Californians a compelling alternative.

By reducing a handful of drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, the state could save hundreds of millions of dollars in incarceration and court costs and invest those savings into rehabilitation and crime prevention efforts.

Upon voter approval in 2014, the first component has since gone into effect. According to a recent report from Californians for Safety and Justice, there were 15,000 fewer people incarcerated in jails and prisons in 2015 compared to 2014. Nearly 280,000 people have petitioned for resentencing and reclassification.

These changes have not only freed jail and prison space for more serious offenders, but have also freed formerly incarcerated individuals from thousands of laws creating 4,800 post-incarceration restrictions, more than half of which limit employment opportunities for people with felony records.

What has been missing, until now, has been the allocation of money saved from incarcerating fewer people for the handful of offenses covered by the initiative. On June 8, the state announced the distribution of $103 million in estimated state savings to 23 city and county rehabilitative programs over the next three years.

The Orange County Health Care Agency is among those approved for funding. The agency will receive $6 million for the proposed Orange County Community Supported Re-Entry Program, which seeks to better connect individuals being released from jail with community-based services, increase access to housing for chronically homeless offenders and expand existing services.

This includes the development of a Community Support and Recovery Center to work with people upon release from booking or incarceration through intensive case management, as well as the expansion of the agency’s Community Counseling & Supportive Services program.

Such efforts are long overdue. But there is reason to go further. Last year, the Legislative Analyst’s Office challenged Gov. Brown’s Prop. 47 savings estimates, arguing the administration underestimated savings by as much as $83 million, while overestimating costs.

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