Riverside County's Proposition 47 Savings

Our country has been fighting the drug war ever since Richard Nixon coined this nonsensical phrase in June of 1971. Somehow, America was going to have a war with non-animate objects fully lacking consciousness. I was six years old when Nixon gave this speech and drugs are as easy for me to get today as they were when I was six. And since this is Riverside, if you can’t get drugs here it’s either due to the facts that you are flat broke or have zero friends. Our county is spending an enormous amount of money locking-up drug addicts, the mentally ill, and homeless people alike. “Why?” you ask, well an ex-felon, John Ehrlichman, locked up for his role in Watergate (totally not drug related), stated in an interview with Harper's,“You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did” (Baum).

Prohibition does not work. It just makes the mafia rich and powerful (as we currently see now where are war on drugs increases the street value of these commodities and gives Mexico’s drug cartels massive incentives toward greater human slaughter and government bribery). Know what else does not work? Mental health treatment in a jail cell administered by a guy who watched a two-hour training video on how to not yell at people who are suffering from mental illness. Know what would work for the homeless? Instead of paying Sheriff Sniff $142.42 (Olson) for a night in jail, we get them a hotel room for $50 bucks. They get a place to pee, shower and store their stuff. Just think of how hard it would be to tell the homeless apart from the other people on the street. All those “quality of life” proponents will be as pleased as punch with their property values and the costs per night is much lower for us taxpayers as a result of this confluence (and no--I’m not a paid lobbyist for Motel 6).

Proposition 47 passed in 2014 and now that we are over two years into it, what has been the effect on Riverside County? Sheriff Stan Sniff, in his Op-Ed, encouraged voters to reject the proposition: “Riverside County has more than 800 inmates currently in our county jail system for felonies that would potentially have their crimes reduced to misdemeanors under Prop 47. Under Prop 47 these very inmates would most likely not be in custody and potentially committing crimes in our communities” (Sniff). In contrast, The American Civil Liberties Union, encouraged voters to support the proposition by stating that “California will lead the nation in ending felony sentencing for the lowest level, non-violent crimes, permanently reduce incarceration and shift $1 billion in the next five years alone from the state corrections department to K-12 school programs and mental health and drug treatment” (ACLU). But by 2016, the State of California reported $67.4 million will be available to the state budget next spring for programs to help at-risk populations due to the passage of Proposition 47 (2016/17 State Budget Summary 44). However, of that amount, the Board of State and Community Corrections received $39.4 million to distribute for drug and mental health treatment with the remainder going to public schools.

Sheriff Sniff also said, “This all boils down to the fact that Prop 47 will result in more crime, new victims, and less safety” (Sniff). While crime rates have had a small uptick in Riverside County, you still need to go back more than thirty years to see crime rates as low as they are now. The crime rates nationwide have also had an uptick in parallel to this, even though Prop. 47 is only a California law. Releasing 800 former felons has not had much of an effect on our community’s safety, so it seems Sheriff Sniff cry-wolf routine was wrong and where as the ACLU was only wrong by $32.6 million dollars. Whenever I or anyone I know asks the Sheriff, county officials or the D.A. about how much Riverside is saving because of the proposition the answer is “None. It’s costing us money.”

Examining Riverside County’s 2015/16 CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report), I do see that they had budgeted more for the Sheriff, District Attorney, Mental Health and Public Defenders offices. This increase was attributed to the proposition. They need to hire people to process the resentencing of those in jail for the felonies changed in Prop 47. The Board of Supervisors also wanted to increase the number of Sheriff’s officers to 1 per 1,000 residents to combat the feared crime-wave. Also, the county’s jails remain at capacity although the number of bookings are down. People serving their time in county jail are “fed kicked” because our county was sued due to inhumane overcrowding. As a result, the number of people Riverside County is permitted to lock up is a court-ordered, fixed number. For each person who enters the jails, someone must be released. Prior to Prop. 47, many people would serve 10% or less of their sentence before being released and now they are serving closer to 40% (Rokos). There are many factors that one can take into account when attempting to measure the costs and savings resulting from Prop. 47. It’s a bit difficult to account for everything. Due to the fact that Riverside county officials are not trying to track this at all and just make claims based on professional expertise (their hunches), I feel I am also free to exorcise my hunches (professional expertise).

The supervisors in Alameda, Contra Costa, Monterey, Shasta and Los Angeles counties seem more interested in tracking their savings. The BSCC-PPIC Multi-County Study (Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), the California Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) reported that those counties had an estimated “total jail ADP (average daily population) declined by 4,767 inmates. That is from 51,151 bed days in October 2014 to 46,384 bed days one year later, a decrease of 9 percent” (PPIC 6). If we take the Sheriff at his word that it cost $142.42 per day per person in jail, and 9% of Riverside’s 3,914 jail beds is 352.26 than conceivably Riverside county officially might admit they’ve saved $50,108.99 per day because of Prop. 47. In total, that is an astounding $18,289,779.53 per year in savings. I know that that approximation is not what Riverside county is actually saving but, if you recall, Riverside county is not tracking our savings, so my approximation (hunches) is all we have to go on.

Subtracting the exact amount of money the county spent for resentencing of the “potential 10,000 or more cases” of people convicted of Prop. 47 offensives is also a bit of a challenge. The 2015/16 budget has $552,882 for the Public Defender, $1.5 million for the department of mental health, $8 million for the District Attorney attributed to Prop. 47. That totals $11,052,882, so my hunch is we save $7,236,897.53 a year because of the proposition.

The 2015/16 budget also had an increase in the Sheriff’s budget, which was not explicitly attributed to Prop. 47, but there is, though, a statement from the 2016 CAFR report “Public protection represents $1.3 billion, or 40.3%, of the total governmental activities expenses and increased by $110.9 million, or 9.1%. The majority of the increase is caused by negotiated labor increases, raising liability coverage, correction health increases, and the ongoing impact of Assembly Bill (AB) 109 public safety realignment and Proposition 47 re-sentencing cases.” The 2016 CAFR also states that with, “Public protection: Actual expenditures were less than the final amended budget by $48.9 million { . . .} The remaining of the variance is noted primarily in the Sheriff’s Department by $7.8 million, Probation Department by $6.9 million, District Attorney’s Department by $1.9 million, and Fire Department $1.5 million.” I am not sure how to add this all up or attribute it to Prop. 47, but the $10,091,900 (9.1 % of $110.9 million) was not spent, along with another $38.8 million also not spent out of the public protection budget. Riverside County, though, may want to study this strange use of hoarding taxpayer funds.

So the gross approximation of $18,289,779.53 in savings could be augmented by some of that $48.9 million not spent, but I am sure that all the experts have had a hunch that I shouldn't add that. Before anyone starts quibbling about my not-quite randomly generated numbers, (footnoted for your quibbling enjoyment), I would like to point out, with the exception of the BSCC-PPIC Multi-County Study, of which our county opted out of, that the very same people who advocated that we should vote against the proposition are making up the numbers I used. We, the voters, were more correct than the Sheriff, District Attorney and the Board of Supervisors (who both voted unanimously to tell us to vote against it). The Sheriff, District Attorney and the Board of Supervisors are also saying, for some random reason, that we are not saving money. The re-sentencing and paperwork processing for people who want their records expunged will go on for a few more years, but those costs--let’s admit--are temporary ones. The amount we will save by not locking up addicts and the mentally ill in jails will continue for a long time. That is if we continue to ignore the voting advice of people who are repeatedly wrong about the effects of policies and the amounts that they cost.

Works Cited:

2016/17 California Budget Summary-Public Safety: State of California, 2016

ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California): Yes on Proposition 47, (no date)
Baum, Dan: Legalize It All, How to win the war on drugs, Harper’s Magazine, April 25, 2017 http://harpers.org/archive/2016/04/legalize-it-all/

Olson, Elisabeth: Report to the Board on Options for Realignment, A Recommended Motion to the Board of Supervisors, July 24, 2012

Public Policy Institute of California BSCC-PPIC Multi-County Study: How Has Proposition 47 Affected California’s Jail Population? 2016
Sniff, Stan: Sheriff Stan Sniff Opposes Proposition 47, Murrieta Patch, October 22, 2014 https://patch.com/california/murrieta/op-ed-sheriff-stan-sniff-opposes-p...

Riverside County Adopted 2015/16 Adopted Budget
Rokos, Brian: Is Prop. 47 working? Depends whom you ask, Press Enterprise, August 7, 2016 http://www.pe.com/2016/08/07/is-prop-47-working-depends-whom-you-ask/