Nearly $36 million will flow into L.A. County to fight recidivism over the next few years—money all saved by sending fewer people to prison for drug and property crimes.
California voters passed Proposition 47 in 2014, downgrading many drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, meaning offenders would no longer go to state prison. The authors of the initiative promised that it would yield savings from the state an that the money would be reinvested in programs designed to cut recidivism and prevent entry to the criminal justice system.
So far, the state’s calculated about $103 million in savings to programs around California, and about a third of that is going to entities in L.A. County, including the county’s Office of Diversion, which will receive $20 million. The Board of State and Community Corrections is expected to sign off on the allocations Thursday.
About $6 million will go to the L.A. City Attorney’s Office for a drug treatment program. Another $6 million goes to Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office of Reentry for a program that provides job training and connections to the workforce for people exiting the criminal justice system.
“This was a measure to stop wasting prison space on the lowest level crimes and take the money and put it in community programs that Californians really want to see get support,” said Lenore Anderson, president of Californians for Safety and Justice, one of the authors of the proposition. “A lot of the money is going into deserving communities like L.A. and that makes sense.”
L.A. County has historically accounted for about a third of the state’s prison population, which currently stands at 130,808.
The shift in resources is a chance to invest in community programs aimed at preventing people from entering or reentering the criminal justice system—and also a chance to see if such programs deliver on their goals.
Law enforcement has been critical of Proposition 47 since it passed, blaming slight rises in crime on the fact that fewer are going to prison. Peter Espinoza, a retired L.A. Superior Court judge who now leads the county’s Office of Diversion and Reentry, said possible links have not yet been well researched.
“Most of what’s been said about links between Proposition 47 and increases in crime are largely anecdotal,” Espinoza said. “If there is a relationship, we need to start addressing the cause of that. We can’t incarcerate our way out of this problem, so we need to address recidivist behavior and the issues that cause defendants to recidivate.”
In Los Angeles, that will mainly mean services aimed at people in the criminal justice system with mental illnesses and/or substance abuse disorders. It’ll also include reentry services that prepare former jail inmates for the workforce and help reunite them with family. Espizona said some of these strategies are tied in with L.A.’s larger efforts to get homeless individuals out of the justice system and into supportive housing.