We waited with bated breath for the state election results to come in last night. And when they did, what great news. Proposition 47 passed and California took a giant step toward fixing our broken criminal justice system.
Proposition 47 lowers penalties for some nonviolent, low-level offenses and in doing so gives women and men a fair chance to rebuild their lives. Penalties for six low-level offenses will be reduced from potential felonies to misdemeanors, shortening the time people spend behind bars.
At the same time Proposition 47 saves the state money, as high as $1.25 billion in the first five years. Those savings will be allocated to K-12 afterschool programs, mental health and substance abuse treatment programs and victim services programs.
Why did we support this proposition? Because Proposition 47 supports women. Women are more likely to have been convicted of a crime involving drugs or property, just the offenses covered by this initiative. In California, women are three times more likely to be in prison for forgery or fraud and twice as likely for petty theft.
Our research also shows that women suffer disproportionately upon release from prison. Our recent report Bias Behind Bars revealed that, compared to men, women incarcerated for felonies are less likely to obtain public benefits and find stable housing. Despite the low risk women with criminal records for nonviolent crimes pose to public safety, women also have more difficulty finding employment upon release. This is due to the overrepresentation of women in the fields of retail, childcare and home health care—all fields where criminal records are of great concern. Some states legally bar those with criminal records from working with children and seniors. Fields that tend to be male-dominated, such as construction and manufacturing, generally are focused less on employees’ backgrounds.
The harmful effects of a felony charge extend beyond women’s lives to those of their families. Today, six out of 10 women behind bars are mothers of minors. Thousands of children are growing up without a mother at home to fix their meals, get them ready for school or contribute to the family income. While mothers are languishing in prison, children are languishing at home.
So how does Proposition 47 work? It changes six non-violent, low-level offenses (such as simple drug possession, petty theft and writing a bad check) from felonies to misdemeanors. Of course, women and men who commit these offenses would be held accountable for their actions… but they would not be considered felons, would avoid the stigma that comes with that charge, would serve in county jails closer to home and closer to their children and, because their sentences would be shorter, they would be reunited with their families sooner.
We wanted to acknowledge our Race, Gender and Human Rights (RGHR) giving circle for supporting Proposition 47 from the get-go by funding the organizing and outreach efforts by the Californians for Safe Neighborhoods and Schools.
The mission of RGHR is to promote human rights and racial and gender justice by challenging the criminal justice system and its use of mass incarceration in California.