Where’s My Missing Prop 47 Savings?

Missing Prop 47 SavingsOn Nov. 4, 2014, California voters, by a 60-40 majority, approved Proposition 47, which changed six low-level drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. It also required that the resulting prison cost savings be reallocated to local mental health and drug treatment programs as well as truancy and dropout prevention and victim services.

I strongly supported Prop. 47 – investing $1.3 million into its passage. Here’s why: California over the past 30 years has enacted extreme sentencing laws that have emphasized prison expansion over rehabilitation. Our state increased prison spending by 1,500 percent and built 22 additional prisons. Bloated prison spending has depleted budgets, increased recidivism and destroyed communities.

I realized it was time to fix a bloated structure that was terribly flawed. By passing Prop. 47, voters sent a powerful message: Mass incarceration has failed, and it’s time to allocate more toward rehabilitation.

During the campaign, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office and the governor’s Department of Finance estimated that Prop. 47 would save California more than $100 million every year. With an annual state prisons budget of more than $10 billion (which keeps growing even as inmate numbers decline), investing $100 million into smart justice is the least the state could do to reverse course.

So, what happened to the projected savings? Prop. 47 reduced the inmate population by 4,700 people. California currently spends almost $63,000 per year per inmate (and, in the 2016-17 budget, the projected costs jump to $70,000). There are set costs that are never reduced, even with a reduction of prisoners, but $63,000 times 4,700 fewer inmates is $296 million in savings, just for the first year.

If we have any hope of ending recidivism, we must redirect resources to prevention strategies – especially to address drug and mental health issues. $29.3 million will never accomplish this goal.

However, Gov. Brown’s 2016-17 budget estimates Prop. 47 savings at only $29.3 million, a figure that’s laughable. And most everyone in California agrees. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office reviewed the governor’s budget estimate and concluded the first deposit of Prop. 47 savings should be about $100 million more.

The vast gap is mainly due to different methods for calculating prison costs – which feels like gaming the system and sabotaging the mandate of Prop. 47 by denying benefits to the most vulnerable Californians.

If we have any hope of ending recidivism, we must redirect resources to prevention strategies – especially to address drug and mental health issues. $29.3 million will never accomplish this goal. $129.3 million – the figure recommended by the LAO – is a start, and with future savings estimated at $200 million to $250 million per year, even greater dividends should be expected.

Prevention strategies absolutely work if they’re given a chance. Red states such as Texas and South Carolina have enacted similar reforms. The result: a drop in prisoners, reduced costs and a reduction in crime.

Conversely, the amount proposed by Gov. Brown sets the state up for failure. Each person in prison has an invaluable worth, and, with the right transformational programs, we can change their lives, stop the cycle of crime and reduce California’s over-reliance on costly prisons.

If you don’t plant your seed, there’s no harvest. The savings from Prop. 47 must be re-planted into the least of these – the individuals locked up for petty crimes – if we’re to receive a harvest, and reduce California’s 54 percent recidivism rate.

wayne_picGov. Brown is essentially robbing our state by failing to properly allocate the Prop. 47 savings. I urge the legislators to demand the Governor’s Office adjust its formula and increase its Prop. 47 allocation. It’s time to rebuild the lives of thousands of men and woman, and allow them an opportunity to turn their lives around.

Wayne Hughes Jr.
Orange County Register

About Wayne Hughes

Wayne Hughes Jr. is a businessman, rancher, and philanthropist working to improve the pristine landscape, vibrant culture, and way of living for residents of California. In 2013, he founded Serving California, a non-profit that facilitates healing for people who have experienced suffering, including military families, crime survivors, and inmates looking to rebuild their lives.

Wayne began his career behind the scenes at Public Storage, a family company with humble beginnings that blossomed to global success. He went on to enter the commercial real estate business, as well, forming American Commercial Equities Management, which specializes in the acquisition and management of premier retail property in prime locations and prestigious markets. Wayne is a native of the Golden State and loyal USC Trojan, and when he isn’t surfing in Malibu, he can be found in the central valley at SkyRose Ranch, where he hosts military families healing from the effects of PTSD, herds his cattle, and tends his organic farm.