Praise California’s Revolutionary Prison Reform

prison overcrowding

Target: Lenore Anderson, Executive Director of Californians for Safety and Justice and co-author of Proposition 47

Goal: Praise the recently-passed legislation, which will result in as many as 40,000 fewer felony convictions each year in the state of California

California’s prisons are notoriously overcrowded. Low-level, non-violent crimes such as shoplifting, theft under $950 and personal use of illicit drugs have regularly been treated as felonies in the state. Despite the staggering cost to taxpayers and in human misery, California was recently given an additional two years to fix the problem. “The state has already reduced its prison population by about 30,000 inmates over the past few years,” writes the San Jose Mercury News, but judges continue to insist more be done to address the “inadequate medical and mental health care in the 34 state prisons.

Fortunately voters agreed that having thousands of non-violent offenders rot for decades in sub-standard prisons was a clear injustice. The historic Proposition 47 passed by a wide margin in the 2014 mid-term elections. Common Dreams reports that under Prop 47 even some prisoners now serving life sentences under “three strikes” laws for non-violent crimes will have a new chance to seek reduced sentences. The decision as to whether or not to allow the release of such prisoners had essentially been left to each judge’s discretion.

Brian Elderbroom and Ryan King with the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center have clearly expressed the rationale behind Prop 47. “The current sentencing and correctional system in California is costly and inefficient,” they write, “and voters would prefer their tax dollars to be spent on education and health care rather than incarceration.” Praise the authors of the landmark legislation for inspiring this much-needed prison reform.


Dear Ms. Anderson,

I am writing to applaud you for your part in co-authoring historic Prop 47. You no doubt faced harsh criticism from some in the law enforcement community for your role in its creation. Yet overcrowding in California’s prisons has led to tremendous suffering and waste of public resources. Voters clearly understood that Prop 47  could help address this problem–and more quickly than the state seemed willing to do so.

Thousands of inmates have been sent to prisons in other states, in many cases making it impossible to maintain contact with their families. Mental and medical care services have declined. Under Prop 47 many non-violent offenders will have a new chance to seek early release and begin the process of reintegration. Each year as many as 40,000 crimes will be tried as misdemeanors rather than felonies. This greatly increases people’s ability to find housing and employment after release while reducing overcrowding and freeing up tax dollars for treatment programs and education.

Thank you for your work helping bring Prop 47 before the voters of California. Its positive impact on human rights can already be witnessed.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: California Department of Corrections via Wikimedia Commons

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