Rehabilitating Corrections in California

The Health Impacts of Proposition 47

Reforming California’s sentences for low-level crimes would alleviate prison and jail overcrowding, make communities safer, strengthen families, and shift resources from imprisoning people to treating them for the addictions and mental health problems at the root of many crimes.

What is Prop 47?

The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act—Prop 47—takes steps to correct a broken criminal justice system by:

Making six non-violent and non-serious crimes—forgery for less than $950, check fraud for less than $950, shoplifting goods worth less than $950, having drugs for personal use, petty theft for less than $950, and receiving stolen property of less than $950—into misdemeanors.

And redistributing the money saved by not sending people to prison and jail to mental health and substance abuse, truancy and dropout prevention, and victim services.

What are the consequences of the current system?

Someone who is convicted of a minor, non-violent offense like those listed above can be charged with a felony and has a higher likelihood of serving a longer sentence and even potentially going to prison.

This can make things go from bad to much worse.

The root causes of the problems that got you into prison are unlikely to be dealt with...

you are unlikely to receive any meaningful drug treatment or mental health care.

Despite the fact that 1 in 4 state prisoners has mental health problems, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spent
less than 6%
of their $10 billion budget on mental health treatment

. . . and 4 out of 5 people in prison who could benefit from substance abuse treatment do not receive it.

In 2012, a person in a California state prison committed suicide every 11 days, on average.

Suicide rates in California prisons substantially exceed the national average.

A felony charge makes it far more difficult to get a job, get housing, further your education, and receive benefits.

Not having access to these things makes it much more difficult to get back on one’s feet and stay out of trouble.

"It used to be you do the crime, you do the time, but it's no longer like that. The felony conviction on your record lasts for a long time. You can't get a job, you can't get housing, and you recidivate." —Human Impact Partners focus group participant

There are 3,000 laws that create more than 4,800 additional punishments for those with a criminal record in California.

58% of these laws limit employment and occupational licensing opportunities
73% of these laws are permanent or do not have a specified time when the consequence ends
45% of these laws are mandatory or automatic consequences that occur regardless of individual circumstances or judicial discretion
60% to 75% of people formerly in prison are unemployed up to one year out of prison.
"Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination –employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service – are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow." —Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow

Overwhelming evidence suggests that your family will suffer, too.

Children of mothers arrested for a felony were 5 times more likely to be placed in foster care than mothers arrested for a misdemeanor.

Each year a spouse is imprisoned increases the odds of separation or divorce by 32%.

Over half of those in prisons have children

"People don't understand that when you lock someone up, it makes their family go through that mental turmoil, that trauma every day. Locking someone up tears families up. It makes them go crazy." —Human Impact Partners focus group participant

Prison is harmful to health

Every year in prison increases the odds of premature mortality by almost 16%
Change in Life Expectancy per month served - New York State 1989 - 2003

And it doesn’t improve public safety

Up until 2011, two-thirds of people who left prison returned within 3 years. Contributing to high recidivism are issues like unaddressed substance abuse and mental illness and barriers to employment and finding housing, leave people with few alternatives.

Who would this affect?

Remember, the crimes we are talking about are non-serious and non-violent.

"All the people in prison for these crimes - that is a LOT of people. These people are not people with heinous crimes. These are nonviolent." —Human Impact Partners focus group participant


1 in 4 American adults have a criminal record.

The prison population in California has soared since the 1980s.

# of people in prison in California 1970-present

People in the criminal justice system are disproportionately mentally ill and disproportionately likely to have substance abuse issues.

Nationally, people in prison and jail are:

times as likely to have a mental health disorder
times as likely to have a substance abuse disorder

as the general population.

These are people who would benefit greatly from mental health and substance abuse programs.

Minorities are disproportionately arrested and charged with crimes.

13% of U.S. Drug users are African American
but 36% of U.S. Drug-related arrests are African American
and 46% of U.S. Drug-related convictions are African American

If current trends continue

1 in 3 Blacks
1 in 6 Latinos
But only 1 in 17 whites

will be incarcerated in their lifetime.

Our predictions if Prop 47 passes

The passage of Prop 47 would lead to better health for Californians.

40,000 people would be convicted of a misdemeanor rather than a felony and thousands would not go to prison each year.

California and its counties will save money on criminal justice costs.

The state will save $200 to $300 million dollars every year. Counties will save $400 to $600 million dollars every year.

By treating substance abuse and mental health problems with up to $195 million each year from Prop 47, people will be able to overcome the problems that get them involved in the criminal justice system—and

crime will decrease.

Many mental health and substance abuse interventions have been shown to reduce recidivism by at least 10%. Courts in which judges can sentence people with substance abuse problems to treatment ("drug courts") reduce recidivism by 12%, on average.

Families will stay together or at least be closer to each other

. . . leading to better outcomes for communities.

Prop 47 will lead to youth having fewer problems with aggression, drugs, and behavioral and emotional problems. It will reduce the risk of partner depression, separation, or divorce.

Without a felony on their record, people will be better able to get a job, find housing, and get vital support at the time they need it most.

Our recommendations

  1. The highest priority recommendation is to implement mental health and substance abuse funding according to best practices, including ensuring that the full amount of funding goes toward programs and services identified in Prop 47.
  2. Develop clear guidance to identify and promote best practices on how counties should implement Prop 47 funds, with input from those who have been involved in the criminal justice system and have used programs and services in the past.
  3. Allocate funds to increase planning, implementation, and evaluation of wraparound re-entry services, including Full Service Partnerships.
  4. Reduce the number and reach of laws that serve as barriers to re-entry (e.g., related to employment, housing, welfare benefits) in California.
  5. Conduct an information campaign about the option for resentencing and record expungement, support legal representation for those who apply, and evaluate the resentencing and expungement implementation process and outcomes.
  6. Track and make public data about misdemeanor convictions and outcomes.

High level findings are available in our Research Summary. Download it here.

The Full Report provides details and extensive background to support our findings. Download it here.

The Technical Report gives background on methodology, a separate report with complete focus group findings, and background on the Predictions. Download it here.

The Executive Summary is a brief overview of the findings. We also have a 2-page Fact Sheet that summarizes the full report.

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A project by Human Impact Partners

Human Impact Partners works to transform the policies and places people need to live healthy lives by increasing the consideration of health and equity in decision making