Since it became California law nearly a year ago, Proposition 47 (Prop 47) has been a magnet for controversy, but with its much-anticipated anniversary looming, the historical piece of legislation is proving to supporters, community members and naysayers that there is a healthy future for some of the city’s most neglected residents. And it lies in prevention.
Passed on November 4, 2014 with nearly 60 percent of the vote, the main objective of Prop 47 was to reclassify some non-violent felonies to misdemeanors. This included crimes such as shoplifting goods less than $950, forgery and check fraud for less than $950, possession of drugs for personal use and the receipt of stolen property worth less than $950.
According to an estimate from the California Legislative Analyst’s office, “prior to the passage of the proposition, counties spent several hundred million dollars annually on workload that will be eliminated by the measure.”
While total state savings won’t be measured until 2016, under the legislation money saved by not imprisoning people for these non-violent crimes will be redirected towards the implementation of a series of preventative programs.
Many of those programs are health-related.
Healthy lives, healthy communities
When her five year old son was accidentally killed by an LAPD officer, who never apologized, Susan Burton found her life spinning out of control.
“All of that had me in a ball of pain,” said Burton, the founder of A New Way of Life Re-Entry Program (ANWOL) said.
Burton began to drink and use illegal drugs and eventually she was sent to prison multiple times for the narcotics.
“I was medicating pain and grief and anger.”
In 1997, after being released from prison, she stumbled across treatment services in Santa Monica and she was able to begin piecing her life back together. From there, she eventually founded ANWOL.
But Burton insists that had there been victim or therapy services in South L.A. her path may have been different.
She hopes that the savings from Prop 47 might help others before they end up in jail.
While many people associate health with what goes on inside of a doctor’s office, many Prop 47 supporters are seeking to change that.
“What’s happening in our homes and schools and neighborhoods has a substantial bearing on people’s health status,” said Tamu Jones, program manager for the California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities South LA.
Often, those who committed non-violent felonies that were reclassified under Prop 47 suffer from a myriad of health issues ranging from things like depression, to substance abuse to outright trauma.
According to The Bureau of Justice, on a national level nearly 20 percent of the prison population suffers from mental illness and 30 to 60 percent suffer from a substance abuse problem.
On September 27 nearly 5,000 people attended The Coalition for Safety and Justice-sponsored health fair at Exposition Park.
The fair offered everything from clinical services, screening and enrollment, information on Prop 47 and health education services through the public health department.
ANWOL is also joining in by holding two legal clinics, both of which offer help with Prop 47 reclassification, a month.
“We have a lot more work to do,” Burton said. “We’re not done restoring sanity to a broken criminal justice system.”