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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Report: Prop. 47 Has Cut Incarceration Rate, Saved $350 Million

Posted By on Thu, Nov 5, 2015 at 1:19 PM

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A year ago, nearly 60 percent of California voters approved Prop. 47, which reclassified certain low-level crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, who has publicly declared the drug war and the country's addiction to incarceration as failures, was one of the measure's chief sponsors — and one of the only sponsors from within law enforcement. 

Before and after its passage, Prop. 47's sharpest criticism has come from law enforcement. Both police and prosecutors have blasted and continue to blast the measure as a soft-on-crime "get out of jail free card" that can be tied to an increase in crime in certain cities.

But what's really happened?

So far, since Prop. 47 passed, there are 13,000 fewer inmates in the state's institutions, according to a recent Stanford Law School report, which will mean up to $350 million in savings. 

But in San Francisco, where police complain that Prop. 47 is behind the rash of auto thefts and other property crimes? A total of 18 former prisoners are on the streets here because of Prop. 47, according to Gascon.

Yet the (police-pushed) narrative that this reform is causing crime continues — and is strikingly similar to other, yet-unfounded narratives.

Statewide, it's a fact that fewer people are behind bars because of Prop. 47, according to the report authored by Stanford Law School's Mike Romano.

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  • Stanford Law School
That will come back, next summer, in the form of savings in the state's prison budget, savings that are supposed to go to mental health and substance abuse treatment as well as schools.

But despite all the police noise, you could make the argument that Prop. 47 has been barely felt in San Francisco, which has one of the state's highest recidivism — or re-offending — rates in the state. 

Very, very few people have been released from incarceration to here as opposed to other counties. 
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Anecdotes, however, suggest that the real change isn't behind bars — it's on the streets, where police are no longer bothering to arrest people who can't be punished for crimes that were once felonies.

Most drug crimes and most thefts involving property worth less than $950 can now be charged as misdemeanors. Other crimes, like auto theft and robberies, however, are still felonies.

That hasn't stopped police from complaining that there's no point in arresting people anymore. But are police indeed arresting fewer people? Thus far, police are not saying. The SFPD has not released updated data from its CompStat division — a modern-day policing method instituted by Gascon when he was chief, incidentally — since last year.

Regardless of what's happening on the streets, the notion that police can't put bad people behind bars because of Prop. 47 "is completely false," Gascon said Thursday. "Realignment (the proposal in 2011 that led nonviolent offenders in prison to be housed in county jails) did not cause the sky to fall," and it does not appear to be falling because of Prop. 47.

Of course, Prop. 47 is just beginning. The money that's meant to pay to "medicalize" rather than criminalize issues like drug addiction has yet to appear. In the meantime, getting people out of jail who shouldn't be there — the point of the initiative — appears to be happening.

"We are ringing the bell, because the system is broken," Gascon said. "And it was broken long before Prop. 47." 
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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.

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