LA County Counted on Prop 47 to Save Money: It Hasn’t Yet

Savings From Prop 47

A report that looks at a year of fiscal savings under Prop. 47 in LA County shows a mixed bag. L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell waits to give a presentation at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG

A California law that turned some felony offenses into misdemeanors to save costs has had no monetary benefits so far for Los Angeles County, according to a report presented on Tuesday.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors heard updates from eight department leaders – including Sheriff Jim McDonnell – on whether or not Proposition 47 has had any cost saving effects. Overall, departments either reported increased workloads or else a lack of a solid data system to track offenders.

McDonnell offered a sobering view of the jails since Proposition 47 was passed in November 2014, saying that the inmate population has increased, especially among those with mental health problem.

McDonnell offered a sobering view of the jails since Proposition 47 was passed in November 2014, saying that the inmate population has increased, especially among those with mental health problem. Increases also occurred because of AB 109, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed in 2011. That law allows for current non-violent, non-serious, and non-sex offenders to be released from California prisons to be supervised at the local level.

“We have fewer people going to prison, but not to jail,” he told the Board. “The burden is shifted to our communities and we need to be upfront with them.”

He said crimes in some categories have increased since Proposition 47 passed,from 67,000 to 72,000 arrests.

“We want to be a good partner, but we want to be upfront about the challenges we’re facing too,” McDonnell said.

Voters gave Prop. 47 the nod in November 2014, mandating that six low-level property and drug offenses would be reclassified from felonies to misdemeanors. The Board asked for updates on the cost savings last December.

But one by one, each Los Angeles County department head said the work surrounding Proposition 47 remained challenging. Few people were staying in drug treatment programs, according to the Department of Public Health. Lawyers were still processing cases the same way, said a representative from the District Attorney’s Office. And finding those whose who qualified to have their past felonies turned to misdeamenors so they could find work also were difficult to reach through current methods, another said. About 519,000 people qualify.

The county’s budget includes $80 million for diversion programs.

The report comes a week after California voters passed Proposition 57, which increases the parole chances for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes.

Supervisor Michael Antonovich said the voting public has been fooled into thinking such measures keep communities safe.

“The public was very misled by proponents of Proposition 47 just as we were all misled by AB 109 when the governor told us that the probation department would be supervising ‘low level’ offenders,” Antonovich said. “Fact is, nearly 70 percent of that population is high risk or very high risk – less than 2 percent are low level offenders.”

A motion he introduced was passed by the board to study how victims are impacted by Proposition 47.

“With respect to Prop 47, the public was told that there would be nearly $130 million in projected cost savings by the state, which has not been realized,” he added. “The problem is that we are not talking about giving people second chances – we are talking about giving people a slap on the hand time and time again. In fact, one person has been re-arrested 44 times – another person 33 times, and nearly 100 lives have been taken by these so-called low-level offenders.”

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said the report “borders on uselessness,” because it didn’t offer clarity on cost savings. But she and Supervisor Hilda Solis agreed that good can come from Proposition 47 if all departments work together to track data and help people train for and find jobs.

“We had hoped to shift from incarceration to rehabilitation,” Kuehl said. “Everybody’s on board with that and those efforts must continue.”

Proponents of Proposition 47, meanwhile, have said the state will see monetary benefits by this winter, and there is no study to date to prove that crime has increased under the measure. They also urged the board to continue to implement measures that will improve the criminal justice system.

susan-abram-200“In the 23 months since Proposition 47 passed, just over half of those arrested were not rearrested,” said Marisa Arrona, implementation director for Californians for Safety and Justice, the group that wrote and ran the measure’s campaign. “Proposition 47 is already cutting down on the criminal justice system’s revolving door.”

Susan Abram
Los Angeles Daily News

About Susan Abram

Susan Abram covers public health news for the Los Angeles Daily News and Los Angeles News Group.


  1. George Eskin says:

    County department heads know how to calculate costs of increased workload but can’t seem to figure out what to do when workload decreases. The District Attorney and Sheriff are unwilling to acknowledge that there has been a significant decrease in the filing of felony cases, fewer felony preliminary hearings and fewer appearances in felony cases.

  2. Prop. 47’s main function was to get the felony label off hundreds of thousands of Californians and reduce the number who would be tagged with it in the future. This is a major success for those who have achieved and will achieve that change, and a success for all of us to have a more equal society.

    Like for most initiatives, proponents claimed there would be great financial savings. Since the prisons and jails and all related (and unrelated!) government departments are underfunded for the missions they have been given, that was too much to expect.

    Reforms, if done well, do not fund themselves. Great increases in public revenue and spending are needed to provide community services for those previously imprisoned/jailed and for those not-yet imprisoned/jailed if we are to provide for individuals and communities what the growing inequality among people and communities have disabled many from providing for themselves.

    Of course much of government revenues is misspent, especially in pursuing dangerous and harmful criminal justice policies — imprisonment of many who could be out of custody if given community services and treatment, and in some cases supervision. But the incarceration/punishment mentality still has too much of a grip on the politics — though voters are rebelling.

    Speaking to the Supervisors Oct. 25, Sheriff McDonnell said “The L.A. County jail system remains the largest mental health system in the nation. It will likely remain so, if and until capacity to provide substance-abuse and mental health treatment in community is available.”

    Most readers I hope join me in finding that statement a strong call for an emergency level of investment in developing that community capacity.
    But for the Sheriff it is a reason for budget-busting investment in major jail construction and operation. And though the Board is doing some community capacity building, the big bucks keep going to the old ways, and human rights and the moral standing of county government — and public well-being — continue to suffer.