How Much Has Prop 47 Saved L.A. County? Nobody Knows.
After months of study, the Rand Corporation had a disappointing answer for local officials hoping to measure purported cost savings from Proposition 47, a voter-approved initiative that reduced certain felonies to misdemeanors. The review, commissioned by L.A. County, yielded inconclusive results, with Rand finding it impossible to adequately quantify savings at this point.
RAND researchers concluded there was too little information available to create credible estimates of cost savings, despite there being evidence that many of the departments saw a drop in workloads. The county departments lack the infrastructure needed to readily monitor workload changes and translate those changes into a fiscal impact, according to the study.
The researchers conducted a review of eight county departments in L.A. While they found reduced workloads and savings in some departments, they also found increased workloads and costs in others, contributing to the overall ambiguity. The difficulty in determining savings was compounded by the measure’s retroactive nature.
Researchers found that while Proposition 47 triggered a reduction in felony cases for the legal and policing agencies, it also increased the number of misdemeanor cases the departments faced. In addition, the three legal agencies realized additional work involving past offenders who filed for relief under the law, which allows people who were convicted of certain felonies in the past to petition to have their convictions downgraded.
Rand encountered similar challenges when trying to measure cost savings from reduced arrests or incarceration.
While the Sheriff's Department saw a drop in arrests for narcotics violations, arrests for larceny increased. Researchers found that the overall custody population in the county jails dropped, but the Sheriff's Department noted there was an increase in workload triggered by more inmates with mental health problems.
To adequately quantify purported savings, Rand recommended following a sample group through the system for a number of years, measuring the costs of the services they receive, and then comparing them to costs prior to Proposition 47.
Read the full report here.