Proposition 47: A Good Start on the Road to Prison Reform

By: Priyanka Chellappa

After a year on the books, Proposition 47 has already developed a dubious reputation. While advocates tout the initiative’s effectiveness in reducing prison overcrowding by 35 percent, skeptics worry that the measure keeps frequent and often dangerous drug abusers on the streets.
As the law currently stands, the statewide drug problems are not fully being addressed. However, Prop 47 has the potential to solve addiction problems in the state if legislation is passed to adapt drug courts as well.

Last year, California’s landmark legislation was the first in the nation to reduce drug and property offenses from a felony to a misdemeanor. At the time, critics feared that the reduced sentences would be a disincentive for frequent drug abusers to attend rehabilitation. Based on recent data collected by the LA Sheriff’s Department, this fear has largely been realized. Attendances in drug courts have decreased dramatically since participation in such programs is now optional. Moreover, crime rates in Los Angeles have been on an upward trend, with motor vehicle thefts up more than 20 percent and car break-ins up 12 percent. In its current form, Prop 47 has opened the gate too wide, and decriminalized drug possession to the point that California police can no longer effectively manage drug-related crime and possession. Although these statistics indicate the pitfalls of the legislation, they by no means discredit the potential benefits of Prop 47 over time.

The most significant benefit of Prop 47 is evident in the precincts themselves. Because officers are no longer required to process non-violent drug offenders, their efforts can be spent keeping communities safe from violent criminals. California should now focus on adapting drug court systems to address addicts directly rather than simply incarcerating them. Instead of relying on prison as a rehabilitation program, the state can make treatment accessible and keep non-violent offenders from overcrowding the system by making drug courts mandatory. By shifting gears away from incarceration and towards assistance, California could provide addicts with the treatment they need while keeping them out of the prison system.

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