Proposition 47: Frequently Asked Questions

What is Proposition 47?

On November 4, 2014, the voters of California passed Proposition 47, a law that changed six low-level offenses (drug possession and five petty theft-related crimes) from potential felonies to misdemeanors. State prison cost savings from the changes will be invested in grants for drug treatment and mental health services for people in the criminal justice system, programs for at-risk students in k-12 schools, and victim services. 

What crimes are now classified as misdemeanors under Proposition 47?

Prop. 47 changed the following nonviolent offenses to misdemeanors (retroactively and going forward):

  • Simple drug possession
  • Petty theft under $950
  • Shoplifting under $950
  • Forgery under $950
  • Writing a bad check under $950
  • Receipt of stolen property under $950

Who is in charge of implementation?

Like any new law, multiple agencies have a responsibility to carry out the intent of the law, and state and local nonprofits will also play a role in ensuring effective implementation.

  • Superior courts are primarily responsible for ensuring that their county complies with the new law moving forward in court proceedings. Each county’s superior court will develop procedures for processing petitions for resentencing and reclassification in the most efficient way possible.
  • Law enforcement agencies are responsible for implementing the law in terms of arrests, bookings and prosecutions. 
  • The California Department of Finance is responsible for calculating and reallocating the savings in prison costs that result from Prop. 47.
  • Community organizations are also working to ensure people with felony records for the offenses changed by Prop. 47 are aware of the opportunity to reclassify those records as misdemeanors.
  • Californians for Safety and Justice is working with state, local and community partners to coordinate efforts, share information and advance effective implementation as much as possible. 

Will people currently incarcerated for the above crimes be resentenced?

If someone is currently serving a sentence for one of these offenses, they may be eligible for resentencing and release. They must petition a judge in the court in which they were originally convicted of that offense.

  • Individuals with previous convictions for crimes such as rape, murder or child molestation or who are in the sex offender registry will not be eligible for resentencing under Prop. 47.
  • A judge has discretion to prevent release if they determine there is an unreasonable risk to public safety.
  • Individuals interested in resentencing should contact their local public defender's office or the lawyer who represented them to file a petition. Visit http://www.myprop47.org/recordchange for more information.

How many people in county jails or state prisons are eligible for new sentences?

Following the election, estimates for the number of state and local inmates eligible for new sentences range from 4,000 to 15,000.Because of the way data is collected by law enforcement agencies, it is difficult to know the exact number of people who are eligible for a new sentence. Eligibility depends on whether or not the person has a prior conviction for certain offenses, is required to register as a sex offender, or whether the value of the item stolen was worth $950 or less. But we know that as of August 31, 2015, judges had resentenced and released 4,402 people from state prison for Prop. 47 offenses.

Did Proposition 47 require mass early releases from prisons or jails? 

No. No one can be released from state prison without petitioning a judge to hold a court hearing. No one in county jail who has been convicted and is serving their sentence in county jail can be released without petitioning a judge to hold a court hearing.

  • Regarding people in or entering county jails pretrial (waiting for their trial before any possible conviction), local jurisdictions and law enforcement agencies have discretion to apply policies and practices related to arrests and release.
  • Prop. 47 maintained pre-existing legal requirements regarding citations, arrests and pre-detention for felony and misdemeanor crimes. Local policies and practices may shift for this population, but that is at the discretion of local decision-makers and not required by Proposition 47.    

Did Proposition 47 make stealing a gun worth less than $950 a misdemeanor?

Proposition 47 maintained California’s numerous gun laws—the strictest in the country—enabling felony prosecution for any and all criminal activity related to guns. This includes gun thefts regardless of the value of the gun. Gun crimes are, by definition, serious crimes. Proposition 47 is exclusively limited to non-serious and nonviolent crimes. Additionally, dozens of felony provisions related to gun crimes are maintained by Proposition 47, including (but not limited to): possession of a concealed stolen gun or possession of a loaded stolen gun; use of a firearm to facilitate any crime (including when the gun involved is being stolen and theft is crime in question); stealing guns from residences, stores during non-business hours, or locked automobiles; taking a firearm from the person of another with force or fear; or possession of a concealed stolen weapon by a gang member or possession of a gun by a felon.  

Can someone have an old felony conviction on their criminal record changed to a misdemeanor, even if they completed their sentence and are no longer in the criminal justice system?
Yes, this law is retroactive. Individuals are eligible to have any qualifying, prior felony convictions reduced to misdemeanors, no matter how old their record.

  • Individuals with previous convictions for crimes such as rape, murder or child molestation or who are in the sex offender registry will not be eligible to get any felonies changed by Prop. 47 reclassified.
  • This is true even if a court previously denied a request to reduce one of these six felonies to a misdemeanor.
  • Visit http://www.myprop47.org/recordchange for more detailed information on this process.

How can someone with a previous conviction for a Prop. 47 felony request changing that on their record?

Individuals convicted of one of the six felonies listed in Prop. 47 can request changing that to a misdemeanor at a courthouse in the county where the conviction took place. Visit http://www.myprop47.org/recordchange for a sample form.

  • This must be done at each county courthouse for each felony, if someone has multiple offenses.
  • An attorney should review all forms before they are submitted, and forms should be submitted to the court clerk and the District Attorney’s office for the county.

Are sheriffs prohibited by state law from booking someone in jail for one of these offenses as they await trial?

No. A person who commits a misdemeanor may be booked in county jail, at the discretion of the sheriff’s department.

  • Before and after Prop. 47, law enforcement officials have the power to keep someone in jail if they are deemed to be at risk for committing the same offense they were booked for.
  • They can be held while awaiting trial for several reasons, including: if they are intoxicated, pose a danger to themselves or others, have outstanding warrants, or the officer has reason to believe the person will not make the required appearance if released.

What is the incentive for people convicted of these offenses because of drug or mental health issues to seek treatment if incarceration is not a consequence?

All of the offenses reclassified by Prop. 47 can carry a sentence of up to one year in county jail.

  • Misdemeanor probation can also come with probation conditions, including drug testing, being subject to search and seizure, daily check-ins with a probation officer, mandatory attendance in drug treatment, community service and/or counseling.
  • Drug courts can also accept people for misdemeanors, with jail time as a consequence for not fulfilling terms of the treatment program.
  • Additionally, research by experts in drug treatment has not shown that people are more likely to enter into treatment because of a felony consequence; and
  • Drug treatment rates in states that treat drug possession as a misdemeanor are the same or higher than in states where drug possession is treated as a felony.   

How much will be saved statewide and in counties from Proposition 47?

The Legislative Analyst’s Office, an independent, nonpartisan government agency, estimated the state will save $150 million to $250 million in savings each year from reduced prison terms, and counties will also save “in the low hundreds of millions of dollars” each year. In the state's 2015-2016 budget, $73 million was already cut from corrections due to Prop. 47.

Where will the savings from Proposition 47 go?

Savings from Proposition 47 will be directed to the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund. These funds will be available starting in 2016, when the savings from reduced prison spending can be fully calculated and redirected towards K-12 school programs, victim services and mental health and drug treatment.

When is the money available?

State savings will be available in 2016, whereas county savings are already being realized.

  • The state savings from Prop. 47 come from fewer people being sent to state prison. To determine those amounts, the state will calculate how many fewer people are sent to state prison each year because of the felonies reduced by Prop. 47.
  • The county savings from Prop. 47 are already being realized through reduced felony caseloads for District Attorney’s offices, Public Defender's offices, and because fewer people will be held in jail as they await trial.
  • Prop. 47 did not direct where the county savings should be spent, but this is an opportunity to engage with your local policymakers and make sure these savings are being used to further support crimes prevention strategies.

If no new funds are available for a year or more, how will the law ensure that people no longer incarcerated get treatment or other programming?

County savings from Prop. 47 are already being realized, and those funds can be more quickly invested into crime-prevention strategies at the discretion of local leaders.

  • Services and treatment options vary by county, but since 2011, counties have received significantly more state funds to invest in what is called “community corrections” (supervised probation, treatment and other alternatives to incarceration aimed at changing behavior).
  • Prop. 47’s passage was a statement by voters that the old system was broken. California has struggled with recidivism rates of 60-70%, without sufficient investment into alternative forms of accountability. Now counties have a new funding stream to prioritize solutions that can finally break the cycle of crime. 

Who decides where the state savings go?

Savings from reduced incarceration within state prisons will be distributed by a grant process run by three different state agencies:

  • The Board of State of Community Corrections will evaluate grant proposals and distribute 65% of the funds for mental health and drug treatment;
  • The Department of Education will distribute 25% for programs in K-12 schools focused on at-risk students; and
  • The California Victim Compensation Program will distribute 10% for trauma recovery services for crime victims. 

Savings achieved from reduced incarceration within county jails are not distributed by Prop. 47 but rather by local government bodies. Local advocates may advocate for those savings to be reallocated to crime-prevention strategies and programs that best serve the needs of that particular community. 

Can the money go to law enforcement or jails?

The savings from Prop. 47 are intended to go to programs that prevent crime, reduce recidivism and aid crime victims. Any public agency may apply.

  • The law is focused on investing savings in prevention approaches that reduce the cycle of crime for people (especially those with drug or mental health problems) at risk of committing misdemeanors addressed in Prop. 47.

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