LOS ANGELES – Sheriff Jim McDonnell offered a harsh assessment Tuesday of Proposition 47, the 2014 voter-approved ballot measure that reduced some low-level felonies to misdemeanors. He also warned that last week’s passage of Proposition 57 will create “an increased nightmare for public safety.”
McDonnell was one of several senior-level county officials reporting to the Board of Supervisors on the effects of Prop 47, from which the board had hoped to realize some cost savings.
“There are no savings from Prop 47,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said. “But the people of California imagined that there would be.”
Kuehl acknowledged that the various departments reporting to the board were invested in protecting their budgets, but seemed to agree with conclusions that any savings were offset by heavier caseloads or new administrative costs.
Supervisor Hilda Solis was more optimistic.
“I am very puzzled that there are no savings. I think there will be savings,” Solis said.
For his part, McDonnell said his budget — which totals roughly $3.3 billion for 2016-17 — is stretched thin because the county jail population is more violent, requires more mental health treatment and has inmates serving longer sentences following changes to state law under AB109 and Prop 47.
AB109 shifted responsibility for jailing low-level offenders to counties in order to reduce overcrowding in state prisons. Prop 47, meanwhile, bumped some felony convictions down to misdemeanors and allowed offenders to amend their records.
The sheriff said Prop 47 left law enforcement without incentives or mandates for offenders to get substance abuse or mental health treatment. That helped boost the numbers of mentally ill inmates in his jails by 20 percent from 2014 to 2016, McDonnell said.
State prison overcrowding has been alleviated, but county “inmates are doing only 30 percent of their time that they’re sentenced to and double the staffing is required to manage mentally ill individuals, McDonnell said.
Proposition 57, which was approved by voters last week, increases parole opportunities for felons convicted of non-violent crimes. But the state’s definition of violent crimes does not include some rapes or domestic violence crimes, leading McDonnell to warn of a “nightmare.”
McDonnell and Supervisor Michael Antonovich, both of whom were vocal opponents of Proposition 57 leading up to the election, pointed to an increase in crime following the passage two years ago of Prop 47.
Bruce Brodie, chief deputy of the Alternative Public Defender’s Office, said there was “no definitive cause and effect” but noted “a dramatic increase in workload” with serious and violent felony cases up 16 percent, misdemeanors up 33 percent, along with a 10 percent bump in cases that could lead to life imprisonment or the death penalty since Prop 47 was passed in November 2014.
Kuehl said the hike in crime was coincidental, noting that crime had also gone up in states without Prop 47-type criminal justice legislation.
Antonovich pointed to repeat offenders in condemning Prop 47.
“Fifty percent of Prop 47 offenders have re-offended,” Antonovich said.
However, advocates for reform described a glass-half-full result, noting that half of offenders had managed to stay out of jail and pointing to the percentage as a significant improvement over a 70 percent rate of re-arrests for state prison inmates.
Prop 47 is “helping to cut down on the revolving door of crime,” Marisa Arrona of Californians for Safety and Justice told the board.
The Stanford Justice Advocacy Project of Stanford Law School estimated in October 2015 that California counties would realize $200 million in jails savings annually as a result of the proposition.
The board has hired Santa Monica-based RAND Corp. to conduct its own analysis of county costs and savings related to Prop 47, with the study expected to be completed in January.