OAKLAND — Since the passage of voter initiative that reduced certain low-level property and drug felonies to misdemeanors and allowed people who were already in prison for those crimes to apply for re-sentencing, 18,000 fewer people are incarcerated in jails and prisons in California, and there have been 40,000 fewer convictions.
The state of California has saved $103 million from the people it is not putting behind bars and through Proposition 47, Alameda County will get $6 million of that for community-based re-entry programs.
That was the message delivered at joint press conference Monday by Californians for Safety and Justice, a prison reform advocacy group, Alameda County Public Defender Brendan Woods, Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, as well as other local and elected political leaders. The 2014 voter initiative mandated that the savings be put into a fund to finance programs to help formerly incarcerated people rebuild their lives.
“For each person that it costs $70,000 to house in prison, the voters said we want to move that money into treatment programs that will help people,” said Hillary Blout, staff attorney for Californians for Safety and Justice. “It took a lot of advocacy to make sure that the promise of the Prop reallocation number was real, it was at $50 million, then it was at $60 (million) and it took people going to Sacramento and banging on doors and making calls to get to the amount that it is today,”
The Alameda County Health Care Agency applied for a grant to help those with moderate and severe mental and substance abuse issues. The Board of State and Community Corrections will make a formal announcement of the statewide grant awards Thursday.
County officials said the reallocation funds are part of a broader effort to create second chances for formerly incarcerated people to rebuild their lives in the face the stigma that they face, which includes discrimination in housing, employment and in obtaining public benefits. There are more than 5,000 restrictions on people in California who have criminal records Blout said, and those barriers, help to increase the recidivism rate, which is more than 60 percent.
Since the passage of Prop 47, 100 clinics have opened statewide to help people reduce or expunge old felonies from their records. More than 250,000 people have filed applications to have their felonies reduced, according to Californians for Safety and Justice. Those huge numbers reflect the historic tough on crime laws and criminalization of drug addiction has led California to have the highest rates of incarceration in the country.
Prop 47 is a vital start but only helps some people with whose felonies included property crimes under $950, shoplifting and drug possession for personal use. Woods said his office established a clean slate clinic in 2013 to help those who had completed their probation but still faced major obstacles.
“People would call and say how can I find a job and how can I get the convictions off my record, can you help me,” Woods said. “And we couldn’t.”
He said under the clean slate program the public defender has helped 5,000 people get their felonies reduced and also helps them to get legal help in securing their occupational licenses and removing other barriers to employment.
The county has declared June second chance month. There will be several events to help people with felony convictions get their felony convictions reduced, get employment assistance, job training and free fingerprinting among other services. One event is scheduled for June 24 at Verdese Carter Park, 9600 Sunnyside St., in Oakland, from 1 until 5 p.m.
The Vallejo Times-Herald