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Prop 47 Has Saved California Millions. These Are the Programs It's Funded

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A Black man wearing a cap and white shirt rests his arms and looks out a window.
Tommy Eugene Lewis III, peer navigator at CEO on May 14, 2024. (Zaydee Sanchez for KQED)

In 1997, Tommy Eugene Lewis III was sentenced to 41 years to life in state prison for attempted murder after he shot and injured another driver. He was 18 years old.

Three years ago, at 43, Lewis was released from prison. He’d spent his entire adult life behind bars and wasn’t sure what was next.

A friend directed him to the Center for Employment Opportunity (CEO), a nonprofit located near Skid Row in Los Angeles, which, despite its proximity, feels like a world apart. Housed in a modern, light-filled office complex above boutiques and restaurants, CEO more closely resembles a tech office.

Offering more than just employment, CEO provides housing assistance, support services like legal aid and helps connect people with behavioral health specialists or therapists. Participants also receive same-day payment for their work.

“They literally became like my side partner [and] my support network coming home,” said Lewis, who’s now employed as a peer navigator at CEO, helping other people as they enter the program.


“When you come home from incarceration, it’s very important to know that you have some people in your corner that can really assist you in your day-to-day living. Because it’s a different thing when you can’t have somewhere to stay or some food in your stomach or clothes on your back,” he said. “These are the things that will immediately make a person go to criminal thinking, right?”

CEO is a grantee of Project imPACT, a program run by the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office of Reentry. It’s funded through California’s Proposition 47, which diverts money from incarcerating lower-level drug users and thieves and redirects it to reentry and rehabilitation programs.

An office building with chairs, computers, tables and pictures on the walls.
The CEO offices in downtown Los Angeles are adorned with art and motivational passages adorning the walls on May 14, 2024. (Zaydee Sanchez for KQED)

So far, the state has awarded more than $300 million in Proposition 47 savings to cities and counties around California with great success: Participants are far less likely to be convicted of a new crime and far more likely to have stable housing and employment, according to state data.

Gilbert Johnson, director of strategic reentry initiatives for Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, highlighted the transformative impact of programs like CEO. The mayor’s office has been awarded $18 million so far in Proposition 47 grants.

Johnson said the success of these programs is predicated on their holistic approach, the understanding that employment or housing isn’t enough if someone’s still struggling with mental health issues.

“Some of the folks have been out [of prison] for years, decades, but still continue to experience barriers to what they need to live a productive, healthy, successful life,” he said.

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Having overcome his own struggles, Johnson understands the people he serves. He spent time in and out of jail and was homeless with a baby of his own on the way when he finally got help 15 years ago from a community nonprofit similar to those now funded by Proposition 47.

Sometimes, the difference between success and failure is just having someone believe you can do it, Johnson said.

“You continuously hear, “People gave me a shot. They gave me a chance, and they didn’t see me as my number … they didn’t see me as my worst mistake. They saw me as somebody working and really wanting to do the right thing”,” he said.

However, Johnson and others are worried that a backlash to criminal justice reforms, including Proposition 47, could roll back the progress Project imPACT is making.

The campaign for a ballot measure that would reverse some parts of Proposition 47 recently turned in signatures to state election officials in the hopes of qualifying for the November ballot. A nonpartisan analysis of that initiative found that it would likely increase state and local criminal justice costs by hundreds of millions of dollars and reduce the amount of money spent on Proposition 47 programs like Project imPACT.

A New Path to Rehabilitation

Proposition 47 passed in 2014 as the state grappled with overcrowded prisons and a U.S. Supreme Court order to reduce its prison population. The idea was that nonviolent drug users and people accused of minor property crimes should be offered treatment instead of jail time — and that by keeping those lower-level offenders out of jails and prisons, public funds could be spent instead on tackling the root causes that were leading people to use drugs or steal.

Over the past decade, the governor’s office said savings have topped $800 million. The bulk of those funds, 65%, is given to the Board of State and Community Corrections for programs that target mental health and substance abuse treatment.

One-quarter of the savings is given to the Department of Education to fund truancy and dropout prevention programs, and 10% is allocated to trauma recovery centers for victims of crimes.

The BSCC grant program has been incredibly successful: An evaluation of the second round of grants, which totaled almost $93 million and served nearly 22,000 people, found that homelessness among participants fell by 60%. Unemployment was cut in half. And only about 15% of participants were convicted of a new crime within three years of entering the Proposition 47-funded program, compared to 35 to 45% statewide.

For Project imPACT programs, that recidivism number was even lower: 7%.

Johnson said those statistics illustrate the value of Proposition 47 in providing an alternate path to crime.

“A young person can go get $1,000 easy off of a smash and grab. Well, what if we gave them a job or showed them how to create a business,” he said. “The more we address the root causes of crime and violence, the better outcomes we’ll see.”

However, critics said Proposition 47-funded programs, while successful, are not reaching the same number of people being prosecuted before its passage.

“We’re nibbling on the problem with these programs,” Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig said, estimating that Yolo County’s Proposition 47-funded program only served about 15% of the people that drug courts would have before the ballot measure passed.

“Which means, you know, there’s hundreds and hundreds of people running around who are seriously addicted. They’re sick, they’re using, they’re stealing, they’re homeless,” Reisig added.

Reisig also questioned whether the state’s recidivism data is accurate, noting that it is based on whether someone was convicted again only in the same county where they are receiving services.

Proposition 47 supporters agree that the programs aren’t doing enough but said that’s an argument for increasing reentry and rehabilitation funding, not cutting it. They note that state prison spending topped $14 billion last fiscal year, compared to about $113 million in Proposition 47 savings in the same time period.

“The promise of Proposition 47 has always been that we’d get a clear glimpse of what would be possible if ever we invested in crime and harm prevention to scale,” said Tinisch Hollins, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice, which wrote the original ballot measure.

“Proposition 47 is clearly demonstrating that when we take a broad and shared approach to safety that isn’t overly-reliant on enforcement and prison incarceration, we get better safety outcomes.”

Stories of Transformation: ‘It Instills Hope’

For participants in the Proposition 47 programs, the benefits are clear.

A headshot of a white man wearing glasses and a white shirt.
Mitchell Kahn at the CEO offices in downtown Los Angeles on May 14, 2024. (Zaydee Sanchez/KQED)

Mitchell Kahn served 18 years in prison. Now 56 years old, he’s living in a transitional home and working to get his commercial driver’s license so he can drive trucks for a living.

“It’s a very different world,” Kahn said. “I went into prison at 36 years of age, coming out of working for a bank. …. And my first job out of prison was picking up things on the side of the freeway.”

While Kahn is now working to build a career, he said it’s not the most important help CEO and other Project imPACT programs have offered.

Over the past year, he said, “I got the ability to talk. When I came home from prison in October of last year, I had an extreme amount of anxiety, and I couldn’t always talk.”

He received help from a therapist and free acupuncture from a health care clinic funded by Project imPACT. It’s all given him the confidence to overcome his anxiety, he said, and figure out a sustainable career path.

He and others said it’s a process: The first job placement he received involved helping other people find employment at a different nonprofit.

“It wasn’t a good fit,” he said. “And I was able to come back and … share what happened. And I wasn’t blamed for it not working.”

That flexibility and willingness to help participants find a job, housing, healthcare and other support is a key part of why Project imPACT programs are working, said Melanie Robledo, housing project manager at CEO. Robledo, like many CEO employees, started as a client.

“I came home [from jail] in a black paper suit. I had nothing to my name. Being able to have my own income, I was able to do things that gave me a level of independence,” she said. “I bought my first pair of shoes. I was able to take my kids out to eat. I was able to contribute. So, it gives you that level of like, oh, my gosh, I’m doing this right. And it also instills hope.”

A woman wearing a white polo shirt leans against a window.
Melanie Robledo at CEO on May 14, 2024. (Zaydee Sanchez for KQED)

Robledo said she lost custody of her children, who are now 16 and 14, when she was cycling in and out of jail and struggling with mental illness, addiction and homelessness.

“There was a level of disappointment, a level of shame, and a lot of other things that came with that. So, getting this job and going through the reentry process has been life-changing for me,” she said.

Robledo said it’s “empowering” to now model what change can look like, not just for her community but for her family, too.

“I see my kids regularly. I’m at every sporting event,” she said. “It changed the whole trajectory of my life.”

A Black man wearing a white hat, black vest and white shirt stands over a woman wearing a white shirt looking at a desktop screen in a building.
Tommy Eugene Lewis III (right) and Melanie work closely together at the CEO offices on May 14, 2024. (Zaydee Sanchez for KQED)

Another Proposition 47-funded program in Los Angeles County is SHIELDS for Families, a reentry and workforce development program that largely receives client referrals from jails, probation agencies and community groups.

Saun Hough is the vocational services manager at SHIELD; he’s also the partnerships manager at Californians for Safety and Justice, the group that sponsored Proposition 47. He said one of the reasons these programs are successful is that they stick with their clients: “We have a motto: you can’t outrun our love,” he said.

“Our goal is to stabilize, right? So, once you’re stable, and you’re earning, and you have readjusted, and you’re ready to go from reentry to reintegration, we still follow up with you. We still stay with you,” he said. “You get a job, and then you realize there’s a training that you need to move up to manager, come on back. Let’s work with you to see what it takes to get you there.”

That’s also true for people who walk away before completing the program, Hough said.


“We see people that don’t stick it out,” he said, “and then six months later… somebody is waiting in the lobby.”

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