Jay Z Champions California's Proposition 47, A Twofold Prison-Education Initiative

In the middle of his performance at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, this past weekend, Jay Z publicly supported California Proposition 47. Prop 47 calls for major reform of the state's prison systems while simultaneously helping to fund the California education system, so it's not hard to see why Jay Z is aligning himself with such an initiative. "Prop 47, California: Build more schools, less prisons," Jay Z told the crowd. "More schools, less prisons, California. They’ll never be able to stop us."

So just what is Prop 47? At its core, the initiated state statute, also known as the Reduced Penalties For Some Crimes Initiative, aims to reduce the penalty for most nonviolent crimes, downgrading the charges from felony to misdemeanor. That would mean that any inmate currently serving time for any of the crimes recognized as misdemeanors under the statute would be eligible for re-sentencing. As a natural result, many prisoners would receive new, shortened sentences.

The beauty of the proposition is in its twofold agenda, which includes another crucial component, Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund. The proposition calls for the state to take the money saved from fewer inmates and shorter sentences and distribute it back into the education system and community. Its creators estimate that between $150 million and $250 million would be saved per year. This component of the initiative has many supporters calling it the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act of 2014.

Besides Jay Z, supporters include the California Democratic Party, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, and former San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne. Under the new law:

  • "Non-serious, nonviolent crimes" would be mandated as misdemeanors instead of felonies. Examples of these crimes include petty theft (if the value of the stolen property is $950 or less) and possession of a narcotic drug or concentrated cannabis. Exceptions would be made for defendants with prior convictions for violent and serious crimes.
  • Anyone currently serving time for any of the offenses that the initiative considers misdemeanors would be assessed and issued a new sentence.
  • Each inmate's re-sentencing would require a "thorough review" of criminal history and risk assessment to ensure that they do not pose a risk to the public.
  • The state would redistribute the money saved on inmates into the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund.
  • The fund would distribute the money as follows: 25 percent to the Department of Education, 10 percent to the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board, and 65 percent to the Board of State and Community Correction.
  • Further pros of the prop: reduces waste of prison space while keeping violent offenders (rapists, murderers, etc.) locked up; reduces government spending waste and puts the money where it's really needed (education, community, mental health and drug treatment, etc.); promotes public safety; helps those who did time for nonviolent crimes reintegrate back into society.