California’s Proposition 47 downgraded six drug and theft crimes to misdemeanors and allowed defendants to renegotiate their punishments. This spring, the state will begin awarding $103 million in grants, all funded by the ballot initiative’s cost savings from keeping fewer nonviolent offenders in prison, the Los Angeles Times reports. For the measure’s supporters, it is a long-awaited step forward. Other states have passed similar laws. California is said to be the lone state investing the savings from keeping fewer people behind bars in services to help people stay out of prison. Nearly 60 public agencies have submitted program proposals. They include cities and counties, health and human services divisions and probation and law enforcement departments statewide. Among their petitions are initiatives to provide youth and adult offenders with counselors and case managers, therapy, housing and job opportunities.
Tasked with choosing which programs receive funding is an executive steering committee composed of criminal justice officials, advocates and former inmates who know the system from the inside. Proposition 47 has helped reduce the prison population, allowing the state to comply with a federal court order that found overcrowded prison conditions in California violated constitutional standards. Nearly 4,700 people have since been re-sentenced and released from state prisons, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation estimates 3,300 fewer individuals will now be incarcerated each year. The new law lowered the state’s daily average jail population by about 8,000 people, says Californians for Safety and Justice. Law enforcement officials and others argue that the measure has allowed offenders to continue breaking laws with little consequence. In some areas, officers are making fewer drug arrests, and police and retailers point to increasing property theft, prompting state legislation to propose a ballot measure that would amend the law, making it a felony to steal $950 worth of property in a year. Under Proposition 47, any single theft under $950 in property value is considered a misdemeanor, even for repeat offenders.