17 Mar Fight Looms as Governor Brown Slashes Prop. 47
By Sandra Hamada
For Ingrid Archie, Proposition 47 is more than just a record change, it’s a second chance at being a mother.
Archie, 34, was imprisoned for a petty theft charge for stealing clothes for her newborn.
At the time of her arrest, the former foster care youth had been laid off from her job, was in an abusive relationship, and was raising a newborn baby on her own.
Due to Proposition 47, the mother of three was released from prison last August and won custody of her one-year-old daughter on Feb. 24 after a custody battle.
The Los Angeles County Public Defender and Alternate Public Defender estimate approximately 690,000 residents in Los Angeles County alone are eligible for reclassification under Proposition 47.
But now Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed a state budget that would gut the historic criminal justice reform law by slashing its funding from $150 million to a pitiful $29 million. He simultaneously proposed $250 million for prison expansion.
Alberto Retana, President of Community Coalition, says “the governor has betrayed voters’ desire to end decades of racialized mass incarceration and wasteful prison spending.” Advocates across the state are gearing up to fight the governor’s cut, which they say could gut Proposition 47.
A MATTER OF POLITICAL WILL
Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, says Gov. Brown’s problem is not lack of funds, but lack of political will.
“We’re choosing to invest in jails and prison,” said Nunn. “We’re not investing in schools and education. We’re making a conscious choice.”
California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 47, the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act of 2014, which reclassifies six non-serious and non-violent property and drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.
The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) estimates that reduction in the prison population has saved the state $150 million in the first year. The LAO argues that the governor’s $29 million proposal underestimates prison, judicial and hospital savings.
Proposition 47 earmarked that savings to be spent for youth development, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, victim services and other crime prevention strategies.
“The state legislature has the opportunity to prioritize prevention strategies over incarceration,” says Patricia Guerra, Justice Policy Coordinator at Community Coalition in South L.A. “The community is in dire need of a public social safety net that meets the needs of people coming back home.”
The governor’s proposed $29 million budget proposal would ruin that chance.
A SECOND CHANCE
Winnetka Vaden, 55, a resident of Westmont in South L.A., has successfully reclassified three felonies under Proposition 47. Currently, she owns and runs a beauty salon. She also founded Community Reflection, a non-profit. And she is attending community college.
“For me personally, my greatest victory is that I’m graduating in June. I just need one class to transfer to a university. By the time I finish the university, I should be able to pursue a [career as a] paralegal,” said Vaden.
Vaden was separated from her four grandchildren as a result of her imprisonment. She is currently petitioning to gain custody of her grandchildren, ages one to eleven.
“I’m going to shed a tear, because the fact is that the kids want to be here [with me],” she says.
Vaden recently won scheduled visitation rights but doesn’t have the freedom to see her grandchildren at will. Her reclassification under Proposition 47 gets her one big step closer.
RESIDENTS AT THE FOREFRONT OF PROP. 47
Vaden is going beyond changing her own record.
Starting last fall, she organized a series of events supported by Community Coalition to help residents who seek to reclassify their records. More than 500 residents turned out for Vaden’s event at Southwest College in October of last year, where more than 150 people were able to reclassify their records.
“We did this for our community. We raised the money and we did this ourselves,” said Vaden.
State Senator Loni Hancock chair of the Senate’s public safety committee hopes Proposition 47 funding can be increased.
“I’ll be using the budget subcommittee process to examine the estimated savings and will be looking at how the Governor and the Legislative Analyst’s Office arrived at their numbers. I’m hoping that we will be able to quantify all the savings and reinvest as much money as possible into programs that will help reduce recidivism,” she said.
THE IMPACT OF PREVENTION SERVICES
“When there’s disinvestment in communities hit hard by mass incarceration, it will push people to their limits and they will commit criminal activities to survive,” said Susan Burton, founder of A New Way of Life Re-entry Project. A New Way of Life Re-entry Project has helped thousands of formerly incarcerated women integrate back into society.
A New Way of Life has helped Archie, the mother who stole clothes for her baby, get her life back on track.
Archie has received housing and legal services that helped her to reunite with her one-year old daughter. With job assistance, she now works at First to Serve Ministries, Inc.
“People need the resources to survive so that they don’t have to commit crimes,” said Archie about the support she’s received.
“It’s critical that state and local governments invest in these communities through prevention and treatment programs that address the root causes of crime,” said Burton.
TOWN HALL MEETING CALLED
The governor’s lowball budget “is a big shock and a huge disappointment to the voters,” says Olivia Barbour, a South L.A. resident who volunteered to educate her neighbors to pass Proposition 47.
“Where is our money?” she said. “$29 million isn’t enough to address the needs of our communities and to reduce crime and violence. We won’t stand for this.”
Community Coalition will join community leaders across the state to urge Gov. Brown to increase public investment in prevention and treatment services to a minimum of $150 million when the budget is revised in May.
Leaders will be hosting a Town Hall with Assemblymember Reggie Jones- Sawyer on April 23 at Community Coalition. There he’ll hear directly from stakeholders on the importance of Proposition 47 implementation.
The governor finalizes the budget on June 15 after conferring with Assembly and Senate leaders.