When Susan Burton’s five-year-old son was run over and killed by a Los Angeles police officer, her grief drew her into severe drug addiction. For the next twenty years, Susan would cycle in and out of prison. Her crimes were non-violent, but she was struck with felony charges mandatory under California law, making it near impossible to find housing, employment or access to drug treatment.
Then her story took a remarkable turn. Susan not only broke the cycle – getting clean and finding employment - but she went on to found A New Way of Life Reentry Project, dedicated to helping recently incarcerated women rebuild their lives. You can listen to Susan share her story in our powerful video below and read more about how Californians can vote on a simple solution to end this ugly pattern this November.
California has the worst record in the nation when it comes to helping past offenders stay out of prison. A 2012 report found that 65% of California’s released inmates returned to prison within three years, disturbingly higher than the national rate of 43%. Since a wave of harsh sentencing laws (including the notorious “three strikes” policy) took hold of the state in the 1990s, low-level offenders with felony records have faced an uphill battle in securing employment and housing, forcing many to rely on illegal means of getting by. And because of educational inequalities, as well as bias in law enforcement and the judicial system, California’s prison cycle hits hardest in non-white communities. In 2013, nearly three in four inmates entering prison with felony charges were African American or Hispanic/Latino, although these groups represent less than half of the overall population.
Enter Prop 47 – a simple but revolutionary reform measure that will come before California voters this November. Also known as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act of 2014, the proposition would downgrade low-level, non-violent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and redirect the millions in savings into drug treatment programs, mental health services and K-12 education. It would also allow those currently incarcerated for low-level crimes to apply for resentencing. The reforms at stake are not only addressing public safety and economic concerns, but also racial justice - a full 65% of those that would be eligible for resentencing are African American and Latino. Rather than expecting people to succeed in spite of the system, Prop 47 would be a critical first step towards building a system that works for all of its citizens.
Proposition 47 would launch the most significant reform of California’s broken system in decades. So why is it flying under election season radar? There has been no major television campaign for Prop 47, and it’s been hardly a blip in the media cycle. California’s misguided ‘tough on crime’ policies have come at unimaginable human cost, and we cannot let the moment for change pass unnoticed. Join the movement today: share our video and spread the word about why this might be the most important issue on the California ballot.