With such a busy election season here in Maine, I have found it challenging to follow all the exciting things happening in other states. However, one thing that I am particularly excited about is Proposition 47, the Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act that is on the ballot today in California.
Prop 47 would reduce some nonviolent offenses, including drug possession, to misdemeanors; if passed, California will become first state to end felony sentencing for low-level drug crimes. Prop. 47 has widespread support from law enforcement leaders, crime victims, teachers, faith communities and civil rights organizations.
Not only will Prop. 47 reduce the amount of time someone can spend inside the criminal justice system, it will also reduce many of the barriers that people with low-level, non-violent felony convictions face, such as lack of employment, housing and access to education and assistance programs. Furthermore, Prop. 47 will save California taxpayers an estimated $1 billion over the next five years – money that is to be reallocated to K-12 school programs, mental health programs, and drug treatment.
We are in the midst of a rapid shift in public sentiment about when it is appropriate to use our criminal justice system, particularly when it comes to drug use. The last 40 years have shown that we cannot simply arrest our way out of the problem, and, in fact, we may be making it worse. It is so exciting that voters in a state infamous for its punitive criminal laws and overcrowded prisons now have the opportunity to pass such important reforms. While California seems very far away, Prop. 47 will no doubt have reverberations around the country.