Not Demeaning Ex-Cons

Ben Casselman discusses a ballot initiative in California:

Proposition 47 would reclassify some drug and property crimes as misdemeanors rather than felonies. Proponents of the measure have focused primarily on the cost savings from sending fewer people to prison, but they argue it would also help non-violent offenders like [Richard] Martin become productive members of society.

Opponents counter that any benefits aren’t worth the tradeoffs. The initiative would reclassify possession of date-rape drugs and the theft of many firearms as misdemeanors, which some law enforcement officials argue could result in the release of violent or potentially violent offenders.

But beyond the specifics of Proposition 47, there is an emerging consensus from across the political spectrum that some sort of reform is necessary to help millions of Americans with criminal records find work. Attorney General Eric Holder and other Democrats have spoken frequently about the issue, but so have conservatives such as Rand Paul and New Gingrich, who penned an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times supporting the California initiative.

Sonya Shah explains why ex-cons seeking employment aren’t the only ones who might benefit:

Proposition 47 stands to benefit survivors of crime, and people concerned about sexual assault should especially be interested in its promise. I know from hearing survivors’ stories how poorly we currently help sexual assault survivors access the trauma services that can be vital in their recovery and ability to avoid future harm. And I know this from first hand experience. …

The “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act” would reduce certain nonviolent offenses (e.g., drug possession, petty shoplifting, etc.) from felonies that can bring prison sentences to misdemeanors that bring county jail time, supervised probation, treatment or other forms of accountability. This will prioritize space in our crowded jails and prisons and, importantly, save $750 million billion over five years, according to a state agency. These savings will be allocated to amongst K-12 program, mental health and drug treatment, and victims’ services. Specifically, $75 million in new funds could be available for victims’ services within five years. If $2 million opened two new trauma recovery centers, imagine what $75 million would mean?