Nearly 20 ex-convicts who had been drug addicts, gangbangers, and prostitutes looked at the colorful, intricate diagram scribbled on the whiteboard in Oakland. Brandon Sturdivant of the faith-based network Oakland Community Organizations singled out the number $67 million in describing the impact of the state’s Proposition 47, reports the Sacramento Bee. “This is what matters,” he said. “The money.” Proposition 47, which passed in 2014, reduced drug possession and some crimes of petty theft, check forgery, and receiving stolen property from felonies to misdemeanors. The initiative mandated that savings from downgrading these offenses be spent on mental health and substance abuse treatment, victim services, and truancy prevention.
Voters were told the shift in emphasis from prison to rehabilitation could result in savings in “the low hundreds of millions.” Yet the final savings figure to pay for prevention and treatment, which was reached after months of tense disagreements and accusations of betrayal, is far below the original estimate. “We pass an important ballot initiative, we change the law and we change the game to reallocate the resources. Then they start playing with our money again. I don’t understand. I was like, ‘Man, no.’ Add $100 million to the pot,” said Aqeela Sherrills, a community activist and Proposition 47 supporter. Proposition 47 never specified exactly how the savings were supposed to be calculated. Department of Finance budget analyst Joshua Gauger said the initial estimate was made in 2014, a month before a federal court ordered population reductions in California prisons. The ruling altered the state’s prison population, budget, and housing plans, and were not accounted for in the number that appeared on the ballot.