California’s voters will soon vote on Proposition 47 (aka The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act of 2014), which would reform sentences for low-level, nonviolent offenders and divert millions of dollars from prisons to education, mental health and victim services.
I’m happy to see 62% of likely voters plan to support Prop 47 because it is badly-needed reform. California incarcerates more people than almost any other state in the nation, and Governor Brown’s court-ordered ‘prison realignment’ plan has only succeeded in shuffling (not reducing) the prison population and making inmates less-safe.
Meanwhile, nearly 30% of the state’s incarcerated are mentally ill as services disappear with draconian budget cuts. A 2011 report from the National Alliance on Mental Illness found the state “virtually divested itself of accountability for its residents living with serious mental illness, shifting responsibility to counties and, incredibly, slashing its state mental health staff…”:
In California, which has cut over $750 million dollars from its mental health budget in recent years, the governor suspended the mandate on counties to provide mental health services for special education students, meaning that the burden of providing and paying for their care is shifted to school systems, also struggling with limited resources.
Prop 47 would divert an estimated $750 million to $1.25 billion in savings from corrections to essential programs and services over the next 5 years.
Supporting this reform bill should be a no-brainer, although it’s unfortunate that the freedom of others will be put to a vote on a ballot. But since drug war-era politicians are loathe to lead the way for fear of Willie Horton-style reprisals, it looks like it will be up to the voters to return some sanity to the criminal justice system.
Passing Prop 47, it’s federal cousin, the Smarter Sentencing Act, and other decarceration bills, are important first steps towards breaking our dependency on prisons. The fact that these reforms exist and enjoy such a wide range of support shows that we’re moving in the right direction. But there are still lingering ‘tough on crime’ sentiments — in these bills and in the CJ reform movement in general — that remain as obstacles to achieving fair justice. Continue reading