ACLU Report: Law Enforcement Still Resistant One Year after Prop 47 Became Law


SAN DIEGO – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of California today released a report, Changing Gears: California’s Shift to Smart Justice, which finds both successes and challenges in Prop 47’s first year that vary according to what choices county agencies have made to implement the law. The report includes 40 county snapshots with local information on Prop 47 implementation, public safety spending, incarceration and crime trends, and falling numbers of people sentenced locally for low-level felonies.

Passed by 60% of voters last November, Proposition 47 reclassified six low-level drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors; mandated that savings from reduced incarceration be reinvested to keep young people in school, provide mental healthcare and substance use disorder treatment, and expand support services for survivors of crime. It also created the opportunity for hundreds of thousands of Californians to reduce an old conviction to a misdemeanor, thus removing the life-long barriers to success that accompany a felony conviction.

This is a pivotal moment not only for California, but for the country, as national and state leaders work to implement smarter approaches to community safety. California is leading by example.

Report findings include:

  • Some law enforcement agencies reported dramatic increases in low-level arrests in the first half of 2015, while others reported equally dramatic reductions. These variations cannot be fully explained by changes in crime, but also reflect agencies’, and even individual officers’, priorities.
  • Thousands of people are still waiting to reduce an old felony conviction to a misdemeanor; hundreds of thousands more need to apply before the November 2017 deadline.
  • Some counties have expanded or created innovative approaches to addressing mental health and substance use disorder needs, but counties need to do more quickly to connect people with the services they need to reduce future arrests.

“Prop 47 is the law, but not yet the new normal,” said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, director of Criminal Justice and Drug Policy at the ACLU of California. “Some counties are already developing better ways to connect people to the services they need to break the cycle of offending. Unfortunately, some in law enforcement are still resisting the law. As California enters Prop 47’s second year, it’s time to move forward. Local law enforcement, behavioral health departments, and county governments need to work together to address societal issues that have long challenged our communities, including mental health, substance use disorders, and homelessness.”

The ballot measure has allowed people like Kerry Walls to free themselves from the stigma of a felony conviction and turn the page on a past mistake.

“Prop 47 gave me the fresh start I needed to fully turn my life around,” said Walls. “Now I can move forward toward realizing my potential. I’m not going to be held back any longer by an old conviction that was limiting my opportunities.”

“We encourage policymakers and advocates to use the information in our report to start a conversation about how local governments and communities can work together to make the most of the opportunity that Prop 47 provides,” said Dooley-Sammuli. “California is in the spotlight as other states consider enacting similar reforms and the choices we make now will have repercussions not only for our communities here at home, but in the decisions being made across the country.”

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