Long awaited but right on time, more than $100 million in state funding is headed toward cities and counties to treat, house and retrain Californians whose addictions or illnesses make them high risks to commit crimes and to wind up in jail or prison.
The money is a product of the savings reaped from a declining state prison population, which is in turn a result of Proposition 47, the criminal justice reform measure adopted by voters in 2014. Proposition 47 reduced simple drug possession and some property crimes like shoplifting from felonies to misdemeanors. Many of these crimes were already misdemeanors in other states.
The funding — which is due for final approval Thursday — is welcome, especially in Los Angeles County, the state's most populous region and the original home of about a third of California's inmates. Cities and counties had to compete for the money, demonstrating that it would go toward proven programs that keep people out of trouble — and L.A. applicants did their homework. Last year, Mayor Eric Garcetti's Office of Reentry began convening service providers and other experts to craft a program to guide offenders to treatment, counseling, housing and employment. City Attorney Mike Feuer developed a street-based program to deal with drug use and treatment. Each will get about $6 million to fund three years of services. So will the city of Pasadena, which worked with service providers on a program to use therapy, data analysis and outreach to reduce recidivism.
The state's largest recipient of Proposition 47 money is Los Angeles County's Office of Diversion and Reentry, established two years ago to put criminal justice reform initiatives to work. The county is to get $20 million for a program that builds on the already-existing efforts to house and treat people reentering society after hospital or clinic stays, as well as time in jail.
Proposition 47 has its share of critics, many of whom complain that voters should never have reduced any felonies to misdemeanors until all those anti-recidivism, reentry and rehabilitation programs were already in place.
Although that might have been ideal, there could be no programs without funding and no funding without prison savings. And of course there could be no savings until California stopped the flow of low-level criminals to high-level incarceration. Lawmakers talked for decades about funding prevention and treatment programs but they never did it — at least not at meaningful levels. They would not reallocate a significant portion of the state budget or impose new taxes to curb criminal recidivism.
Hundreds of thousands of Californians have been marginalized by harsh felony convictions for relatively low-level crimes, often drug possessions for which they were sentenced decades ago. Many have been living well below their potential or aloof from law-abiding society because their records prevented them from getting decent-paying jobs, university degrees, professional licenses and in some cases custody of their own children. Until recently many were ineligible for food stamps. Such foolish policies virtually guaranteed that many former offenders would suffer deteriorating mental health, find solace in substance abuse or return to crime.
Proposition 47 allows them the opportunity to clear their records and invites them back into productive society. But the invitation rings hollow when the programs for treatment, job skills, housing assistance and the like are too few, too poorly funded and insufficiently coordinated.
Now the funding is almost here. There are strings, as there should be. Every program should be evaluated on how successful it is at keeping people from crime or from the conditions associated with it. Cities and counties should be ready to learn from each other's successes, and to jettison programs that fail in favor of those that show that they work.