Two years after it was approved by California voters, Proposition 47 has scaled back mass incarceration of drug addicts, but successful reform is woefully incomplete, reports the USA Today California Network. Proponents celebrate how the law freed at least 13,500 inmates from harsh sentences in crowded prisons and jails, but Prop 47 has done little to help these people restart their lives. Instead, the unprecedented release of inmates has exposed the limits of neglected social service programs: Thousands of addicts and mentally ill people have traded a life behind bars for a churning cycle of homelessness, substance abuse, and petty crime.
Prop 47 earmarked millions saved in prison costs for inmate rehabilitation, but not a penny has been spent. Meanwhile, the state’s shortage of treatment programs is more glaring than ever. Expanding rehab would be expensive, but it is still a cheaper, more effective and more humane strategy for addressing addiction than locking drug abusers in prison. “The problem is, if you don’t actually do anything to change conditions of their lives, they’re going to be back on the streets anyway,” said Elliot Currie, a University of California, Irvine criminologist. “What’s to prevent them from going back to the same old ways when they get out? The answer is nothing.” Propsition 47 freed 13,500 inmates and erased an estimated 198,000 low-level drug and theft felony convictions. California police have dramatically de-prioritized drug busts in the wake of Prop 47, arresting and citing about 22,000 fewer people in 2015, a 9.5 percent decrease in the first year since the possession of meth, heroin, and cocaine was downgraded to a misdemeanor.