Less on Prisons, More on Prevention? California Starts the Shift

less on prisons

Two and a half years after 60 percent of Californians voted for Proposition 47, the initiative is coming to a head.

The measure reduced nonviolent drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and reallocated the money saved into programs for mental health, substance abuse treatment, victim services and truancy prevention.

Now the money is finally going somewhere, and it’s a lot of money. $103 million, to be exact.

What took so long?

“The intent of the measure was to capture prison savings, so time had to pass in order for those savings to emerge,” said Lenore Anderson, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice, a sponsor of the initiative. “The first thing the ballot initiative did was change the penalty for six low-level crimes, and then the subsequent savings it generated in the state prison budget as a result of those penalty changes would be reallocated to prevention treatments.”

On Thursday this starts, after lots of back and forth between law enforcement and vocal proponents of the measure like the ACLU, Mental Health America in California andCalifornia Catholic Conference.

Can we have a more balanced approach to safety – one that prioritizes local prevention and treatments over one-size-fits-all costly and bloated prison policy?

Opponents noted that crime rose in some communities in the year following the measure’s passage. Backers pointed out that stepped up prevention programs had yet to begin.

After whittling down a list of 58 proposals for funding from various jurisdictions across the state, the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) will announced this week which applicants will receive grants. Jurisdictions like San Diego County, the San Francisco Department of Public Health, San Joaquin County Behavioral Health Service, Los Angeles County Department of Health Services and several others have received formal recommendations – for proposals that prioritized diversion, mental health and drug treatments in their local communities – but now await final approval.

Most of those who are chosen will be awarded between $1 million and $6 million to devote to their new programs, which seek to shrink the California prison populations and prison funding that have steadily increased over the past 25 years by addressing drivers of crime.

“This is a huge advance for California and what I hope is only the beginning,” Anderson said. “We need to continue to rebalance our public safety investments.

“With a high recidivism rate and with communities still dealing with cycles of crime and violence, the question that most Californians have been asking is, can we do better?” Anderson said. “Can we have a more balanced approach to safety – one that prioritizes local prevention and treatments over one-size-fits-all costly and bloated prison policy? This is a huge advance for California and what I hope is only the beginning. We need to continue to rebalance our public safety investments.”

Rennie Svirnovskiy
Sacramento Bee