Why CA’s Prop 47 matters for immigrants in the state

SAN FRANCISCO – In November 2014, California voters passed Prop 47, an historic criminal justice reform which re-classified six non-violent felonies as misdemeanors and address overcrowding in the state’s prisons.

Officials said that despite growing controversy over the law’s impact, there have been positive results.

Aside from reducing prison populations, the independent, non-partisan legislative analyst’s office reported that Prop 47 saved California at least $115 million during its first year.

The funds will be allocated to local mental health and drug treatment, trauma recovery services for victims and at-risk youth programs.

“Our criminal justice system hasn’t really been built on systems of prevention and treatment,” said Atty. Hillary Blout, Prop 47 staff. “It’s been built on ‘throw people into prison and throw them in there for longer.’ And so it’s a mindset and a mind shift that’s necessary and needs to happen.”

Officials are trying to reach out to immigrant communities because a felony record can have serious immigration consequences.

SF public defender Jeff Adachi said with a felony, an immigrant can never become a citizen, but there’s still a chance with a misdemeanor.

“Even if you’re a legal permanent resident or even if you have refugee status, if you get a certain type of conviction especially a felony conviction, it can lead to an automatic deportation,” added Blout.

Critics said the early release of 4,500 inmates under Prop 47 caused a rise in urban crime in California in 2015, but according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, the date actually suggests otherwise.

Their study found that cities who released a higher number of inmates actually saw a lower number of crimes compared to cities who released fewer inmates.

Blout believes putting together people with a drug addiction or a mental health issue with serious and violent offenders causes career criminals.

“(It) puts ideas in the minds of people that would have just been committing low level offenses,” she said.

A deadline for all applications and petitions to change a record under Prop 47 must be filed by Nov. 27. Advocates for the law are working to get the deadline lifted.


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