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Santa Barbara County Officials Hear Update on Prop. 47 Impacts

More than a year after the passage of Proposition 47, Santa Barbara County agencies are still quantifying the impacts of a law that reclassifies some felonies as misdemeanors.

The law aimed at reducing incarceration rates was doing just that initially, along with increasing the workload for courts and attorneys tasked with re-sentencing or reclassifying nonviolent drug, theft and other low-level felonies as misdemeanor crimes.

But as the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors will hear on Tuesday, the average daily population of the County Jail has since crept back closer to normal levels, and the burdensome court workload is holding steady.

Residents across California voted the ballot measure, also known as the “Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act,” into law effective Nov. 5, 2014.

The law — crafted outside the state Legislature — is meant to save the state $100 million to $200 million by eventually reducing the criminal-justice workload and freeing up jail beds and probation resources.

But that money isn’t coming until August 2016 at the earliest.

The supervisors this week received a report updating Prop. 47 impacts and the efforts of an ad-hoc committee of affected departments to track effects and budget savings with periodic updates to the board.

It was the second such presentation before the supervisors — the first was last March — but this time data was from as recent as Aug. 31.

Felony filings were still down and misdemeanor filings up, but the reported noted a 45-percent increase in the number of warrants issued for defendants who failed to appear — 6,344 compared to a three-year average of 4,353 — since misdemeanor offenders aren’t held in jail before court appearances.

While the jail population at first declined about 15 percent, the Sheriff’s Department reports a recent increase in population might throw a wrench in that finding.

The court workload was “still significant,” with the District Attorney’s Office handling approximately 1,600 petition requests for re-sentencing or reclassification — 1,100 of which were granted.

The Public Defender’s Office has filed over 1,450 re-sentencing petitions.

Since passage, the county Probation Department has seen a reduction of 394 offenders under supervision, with 249 of those cases closed due to Prop. 47.

Something cited by local law enforcement officials as a major consequence of Prop. 47, the fact that fewer people are volunteering for treatment court to avoid jail time, can now be quantified in numbers.

Countywide enrollment in drug-treatment programs has declined approximately 15 percent since November 2014, with 1,368 participants then compared to 1,129 participants in August 2015, according to the report.

County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services has seen a similar dip.

No real action will be taken Tuesday, and the California State Association of Counties says it’s too early to release any statewide findings of Prop. 47 effects, but a committee within that association will host a panel to discuss impacts at a meeting in December.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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