Prop. 47: New chances for better lives

Bishop Rufus K. Turner
Stockton Record
June 23, 2016

Twenty years ago, Madeline, a member of Victory in Praise Church, was convicted of a nonviolent felony and served time in the Santa Rita and Martinez jails. In a recent testimony following our Social Justice Sunday Service, she reflected on her mistakes, “We've all had one of those moments in time that we think back on and say "What in the world was I thinking?"

One of the tenants of the Christian faith is to forgive. We must forgive, and give people an opportunity for restoration and relationship. Forgiveness releases individuals that have done wrong and provides them with an opportunity for redemption within our communities. I have seen lives changed through forgiveness.

Since serving time in county jail, Madeline has changed her life. Despite paying her debt to society, a successful career in patient accounting, and being a productive member of her community, her old criminal record acts as a barrier to better employment. There have been times where she was discouraged from applying for a job not because she wasn’t qualified, but because she has a felony on her record.

Individuals like Madeline are keenly aware of the mistakes of their past and are determined to rebuild their lives for themselves and their families. We’ve all done wrong at some point in our lives and have stood in the position of needing forgiveness and restoration.

Proposition 47, passed overwhelmingly by state voters in November 2014, is offering many individuals the opportunity to have old low-level, nonviolent felonies on their records reclassified as misdemeanors. The law reduced the penalty for six, low level, nonviolent crimes from a felony to a misdemeanor, and made the change retroactive, creating a once in a lifetime opportunity for a second chance in life for many people in Stockton and across California.

The legacy of incarceration haunts people long after they have served their debt to society and this is the time to remove that stigma and begin the journey of rebuilding trust.

That’s why on Saturday, I will be speaking at a Proposition 47 Record Change and Justice Fair at San Joaquin Delta College from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information visit sanjoaquinfor47.com. Nearly 1,000 people are expected to attend and hundreds will get free legal assistance with completing and submitting applications for record change under Prop. 47. Community organizations and faith leaders will be on hand to help people take the first steps toward rebuilding their lives.

For too long, our approach to criminal justice has led to a system that is heavy on punishment and light on fairness, mercy, or second chances. By reducing old felonies on their criminal records to misdemeanors, people can become immediately eligible for job opportunities, housing, and other benefits that can help them put past mistakes behind them and get a fresh start in their lives.

Making sure that as many people as are eligible take advantage of the opportunity for record change under Proposition 47 is not just key for maintaining a society that is just and merciful, but it is also essential for maintaining public safety by ensuring that people with old felonies on their record are able to fully and successfully reintegrate back into our community.

California places nearly 5,000 restrictions on people with old felonies on their criminal records. When we make it difficult for people to be successful and re-enter society upon release from prison or jail, we trap these people in cycles of poverty, hopelessness and crime. This approach does nothing to break the cycles of crime or keep our communities healthy and safe.

I support Prop 47 as an act of forgiveness and restoration because I serve a God of second chances.