Fi­nally, Prop. 47 pays off

Fight­ing crim­i­nal re­cidi­vism takes a big step for­ward with the dis­tri­bu­tion of $103 mil­lion.

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION - Ong awaited

Lbut right on time, more than $100 mil­lion in state fund­ing is headed to cities and coun­ties to treat, house and re­train Cal­i­for­ni­ans whose ad­dic­tions or ill­nesses make them high risks to com­mit crimes and to wind up in jail or prison.

The money is a prod­uct of the sav­ings reaped from a de­clin­ing state prison pop­u­la­tion, which is in turn a re­sult of Propo­si­tion 47, the crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form mea­sure adopted by vot­ers in 2014. Propo­si­tion 47 re­duced sim­ple drug pos­ses­sion and some prop­erty crimes like shoplift­ing from felonies to mis­de­meanors. Many of these crimes were al­ready mis­de­meanors in other states.

The fund­ing — which is due for fi­nal ap­proval Thurs­day — is wel­come, es­pe­cially in Los An­ge­les County, the state’s most pop­u­lous re­gion and the orig­i­nal home of about a third of Cal­i­for­nia’s in­mates. Cities and coun­ties had to com­pete for the money, demon­strat­ing that it would go to­ward proven pro­grams that keep peo­ple out of trou­ble — and L.A. ap­pli­cants did their home­work. Last year, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Of­fice of Reen­try be­gan con­ven­ing ser­vice providers and other ex­perts to craft a pro­gram to guide of­fend­ers to treat­ment, coun­sel­ing, hous­ing and em­ploy­ment. City At­tor­ney Mike Feuer de­vel­oped a street-based pro­gram to deal with drug use and treat­ment. Each will get about $6 mil­lion to fund three years of ser­vices. So will Pasadena, which worked with ser­vice providers on a pro­gram to use ther­apy, data anal­y­sis and out­reach to re­duce re­cidi­vism.

The state’s largest re­cip­i­ent of Propo­si­tion 47 money is Los An­ge­les County’s Of­fice of Di­ver­sion and Reen­try, es­tab­lished two years ago to put crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form ini­tia­tives to work. The county is to get $20 mil­lion for a pro­gram that builds on the al­ready-ex­ist­ing ef­forts to house and treat peo­ple reen­ter­ing so­ci­ety after hospi­tal or clinic stays, as well as time in jail.

Propo­si­tion 47 has its share of crit­ics, many of whom com­plain that vot­ers should never have re­duced any felonies to mis­de­meanors un­til all those anti-re­cidi­vism, reen­try and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­grams were al­ready in place.

Although that might have been ideal, there could be no pro­grams with­out fund­ing and no fund­ing with­out prison sav­ings. And of course there could be no sav­ings un­til Cal­i­for­nia stopped the flow of low-level crim­i­nals to high-level in­car­cer­a­tion. Law­mak­ers talked for decades about fund­ing pre­ven­tion and treat­ment pro­grams but they never did it — at least not at mean­ing­ful lev­els. They would not re­al­lo­cate a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the state bud­get or im­pose new taxes to curb crim­i­nal re­cidi­vism.

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of Cal­i­for­ni­ans have been marginal­ized by harsh felony con­vic­tions for rel­a­tively low-level crimes, of­ten drug pos­ses­sions for which they were sen­tenced decades ago. Many have been liv­ing well below their po­ten­tial or aloof from lawabid­ing so­ci­ety be­cause their records pre­vented them from get­ting good jobs, univer­sity de­grees, pro­fes­sional li­censes and in some cases cus­tody of their own chil­dren. Un­til re­cently many were in­el­i­gi­ble for food stamps. Such fool­ish poli­cies vir­tu­ally guar­an­teed that many former of­fend­ers would suf­fer de­te­ri­o­rat­ing men­tal health, find so­lace in sub­stance abuse or re­turn to crime.

Propo­si­tion 47 al­lows them the op­por­tu­nity to clear their records and in­vites them back into pro­duc­tive so­ci­ety. But the in­vi­ta­tion rings hol­low when the pro­grams for treat­ment, job skills, hous­ing as­sis­tance and the like are too few, too poorly funded and in­suf­fi­ciently co­or­di­nated.

Now the fund­ing is al­most here. There are strings, as there should be. Ev­ery pro­gram should be eval­u­ated on how suc­cess­ful it is at keep­ing peo­ple from crime or from the con­di­tions as­so­ci­ated with it. Cities and coun­ties should be ready to learn from each other’s suc­cesses, and to jet­ti­son pro­grams that fail in fa­vor of those that show that they work.

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