The Nation says California’s approval of Proposition 47 last November amounted to a reform “earthquake” in the world of criminal justice. The tremors have reached as far as Texas and New York, where prison reformers are looking at Prop 47 as a model for their own proposals. By reclassifying six low-end drug and petty theft felonies as misdemeanors, Prop 47 removed an estimated 40,000 people per year from the prison pipeline. Most of these men and women initially serve only a few months, but the consequences—restrictions on employment, barriers to access to government benefits and a high likelihood of reincarceration—last a lifetime.
The reform was designed to invest the savings, estimated by the Legislative Analyst's Office to be up to $200 million annually, in mental health programs, drug treatment, early education and other infrastructure. Prop 47 also allows an estimated 10,000 prisoners to petition judges to reduce their sentences based on the new reclassification of their crimes. Perhaps most important, it allows all state residents who have been convicted of one of these felonies to apply to get the crimes removed from their records. By some calculations this will dramatically improve prospects for more than 1 million Californians.