Proposition 47: L.A. County report details profound effect on justice system

Thousands of Proposition 47 petitions for re-sentencing from convicted criminals in custody must be ruled on by a judge.
(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

Proposition 47 is having a profound effect on Los Angeles County’s criminal justice system, from the jails to mental health treatment to workloads for prosecutors and public defenders, according to a draft report by the county’s chief executive.

The report, presented at a county public safety meeting Wednesday, details the impacts of the new law, which downgrades some drug and theft felonies to misdemeanors, since it took effect on Nov. 5.

County agencies are still assessing the situation but will likely have to make major adjustments in the coming months.

In the county jails, overcrowding has eased, as people serving time on Prop. 47 charges are released and new offenders are not being locked up. This allows more serious offenders to serve a larger percentage of their sentences instead of getting out early.


Some people caught carrying drugs or drug paraphernalia are not being arrested at all. Narcotics arrests in areas patrolled by the Sheriff’s Department are down 38% from Nov. 5 to Jan. 5 compared with the same period a year ago, the report said.

By the end of January, according to the Sheriff’s Department, the decrease in narcotics arrests was even greater, 48% from a year ago.

Local criminal courts will process between 4,000 and 14,000 applications from pre-trial defendants who were arrested for felonies but can now petition to have their charges changed to misdemeanors, the report said. Another 20,000 applications could come from people currently incarcerated, the report said.

Another category of cases is expected to keep judges, prosecutors and public defenders busy: the people who have already served their time and can now change the felony on their criminal records to a misdemeanor. Those cases could top 300,000 and date back decades.


The report quantifies an expected impact on court-ordered drug and mental health treatment programs: a decrease in enrollment because defendants are no longer threatened with jail time. Sign-ups for the programs decreased from 110 defendants a year ago to 53 in the first three months after Proposition 47 passed.

Other effects described in the report are less widely known.

There will likely be less money available to help crime victims. Those convicted of misdemeanors pay less in fines than felony offenders, so the amount of money in the state’s victim restitution fund will likely decrease. Victims of Proposition 47 crimes will not be eligible for county assistance, since misdemeanors are not included in the program.

The county’s mental health system is also adjusting to Proposition 47. As inmates with serious mental illness, including those declared incompetent to stand trial, are released early from state hospitals, they will require county mental health services.


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