Most propositions serve multiple purposes. In the case of prop 47 is has had the effect of lowering inmate populations across California while at the same time allowing certain crimes to be reduced from felonies to misdemeanors.
For some, the ability to have their crimes reduced from felonies to misdemeanors has meant a chance to straighten up their lives and pursue a better path. Others see this as a chance to keep those convicted of nonviolent, nonserious crimes from doing serious jail time with hardened criminals in overpopulated jails.
So, what does this proposition really mean? In plain terms, proposition 47 was introduced and subsequently approved as a reform measure that was designed to roll back unfair and outdated sentencing guidelines for certain drug and theft offenses. The provisions of Prop 47 are fully retroactive, setting forth a mechanism of relief for defendants who are currently in jail serving sentences or who have already completed their sentences.
But prop 47 has also had other positive benefits. Following Proposition 47’s approval in November 2014, inmate populations in prisons began to fall across California. In Los Angeles, which had the country’s largest jail system, the inmate population fell from 18,601 in November 2014 to 17,285 in January 2015. According to Jody Sharp, a commander with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, narcotics arrests fell one-third and bookings fell by a quarter in January 2015 relative to the previous year.
There has also been an economic impact. A February 2015 report from the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office claimed that although Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget assumed a reduction of 1,900 inmates in 2015-16 due to Proposition 47, this was likely an underestimation of the measure’s effects. The report estimated that state savings would range from $100 million to $200 million beginning in the 2016-17 fiscal year. The governor reduced his proposed annual budget by $73 million and cut the use of private prison beds in half because of earlier-than-expected reductions from Proposition 47.
Of course, there are always two sides to every issue and prop 47 has its opponents who cite things such as perceived increases in some crimes and some degree of recidivism among some of those released.