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Proposition 47 has the ability to save lives

In November of 2014, California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 47, which reclassified certain crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. People convicted of drug possession or theft under $950 can now petition the courts to remove felony convictions for those offenses from their records. An estimated 11,000 Santa Cruz County residents qualify for Proposition 47 reductions.

Removing felony convictions from a person’s record opens up opportunities to apply for education, professional training and licensing, housing and other benefits. These opportunities allow people to become self-sufficient and productive members of our society. Too often, those with felony convictions are unable to obtain employment, locate housing or pursue education. When we label people as felons, we sentence them to more than just jail time or a fine — we make it nearly impossible for them to function in society. Californians, and 77 percent of Santa Cruz voters, have said quite clearly that they think this is unfair and counterproductive. Proposition 47 will save thousands of people who would otherwise be condemned to lives of unemployment or underemployment, substandard living conditions, and little hope for the future.

Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action is a local nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of 25 member institutions including churches, synagogues, nonprofits, labor unions and schools. Our COPA institutions work together to realize a common good that reflects the values we share in common. Recognizing the critical importance of allowing people in our community the opportunity to improve their lives, COPA leaders have worked hard over the past 15 months to ensure effective implementation of Proposition 47 including securing funding for outreach efforts. For many of us clergy in COPA, Proposition 47 provides an opportunity to take action on our beliefs in human dignity, reconciliation, mercy and justice.

But Proposition 47 has a deadline. This opportunity will expire on Nov. 1, 2017. So it’s imperative to move now to take advantage of the opening. Fortunately there are many organizations including several county offices and nonprofits reaching out to those who might benefit.

In fact, many of them will come together to offer a special “Build Your Future” event on Thursday, Jan. 28, at COPA-member Temple Beth El, 3055 Porter Gulch Road in Aptos (accessible via the 69, 71 or 91X bus lines). From 3 to 7 p.m., representatives from the county court system, job training and placement agencies, community services, health-care treatment and counseling, and public-benefits advisers will provide information and individual case reviews. This bilingual event is free, and even provides free childcare. With a potential demand of more than 11,000 residents, we need more events like this one, but this is a great start.

Californians who care about their communities worked hard to get Proposition 47 passed, but the real work comes in getting eligible people into the system. The “Build Your Future” event is just the kind of activity we need to put Proposition 47 into action.

This article was submitted by the Rev. Dave Grishaw-Jones, Peace United Church of Christ, Santa Cruz; Deacon Patrick Conway, Resurrection Catholic Community, Aptos; Fr. Ron Shirley, Resurrection Catholic Community, Aptos; the Rev. Jay Parr, Aptos Community Methodist Church; Rabbi Richard Litvak, Temple Beth El, Aptos; and the Rev. Susan Birkelo, Lutheran Community Church, Watsonville.

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