California Drug Offenders Released Under New Law

By Victoria Kim 12/02/14

Hundreds of nonviolent offenders have already been released, leaving behind empty beds for the first time in years.

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Hundreds of jail and prison inmates in California have been released under Proposition 47, a law which reclassifies nonviolent crimes previously considered felonies as misdemeanors.

Under the retroactive measure, which passed in November with 59% of the vote, nonviolent offenses like drug possession, petty theft, and forgery are now punishable by no more than a year in jail.

The law, which went into effect immediately, has led to the release of hundreds of inmates in the state, including nonviolent drug offenders, making good on its promise to reduce overcrowding in prisons and jails. In Yolo County alone, there have been 47 inmates released.

“For the first time in anyone’s memory, there are now empty beds in the Yolo jail,” said Yolo County Superior Court Judge Dave Rosenberg.

In San Diego County, it’s estimated that 18,000 people convicted of felonies during the last three years are eligible for resentencing, according to San Diego County Presiding Judge David J. Danielsen.

Since the measure’s passing, the courts have been flooded with applications from people with certain kinds of felonies on their records seeking to have them removed. Having a felony conviction can make it impossible to get a job, obtain government student loans, or receive public housing.

Proponents of the law believe that reducing nonviolent drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors will reduce recidivism throughout the state by making it easier for former inmates to reintegrate into society.

Proposition 47 has been projected to save the state roughly $200 million in annual prison costs—it costs $62,000 per year to house an inmate—and the savings are to be used for mental health and substance abuse treatment, and reducing school truancy and victims’ services.

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