The message was simple: “More schools, less prison.”
That’s what Jay-Z told an audience of nearly 90,000 fans at the Rose Bowl during his On the Run tour with his wife, Beyoncé, back in August. With that statement, the rapper was expressing support of Prop 47, the California ballot that seeks to reclassify nonviolent drug possession and petty theft crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.
Jay-Z leads several other high-profile celebrities who have joined Artists for 47, a coalition of artists advocating for the bill to pass. Social entrepreneur Mike de la Rocha, civil rights activist Michael Skolnick and culture critic Dream Hampton are founders of the group, which counts Brad Pitt, Olivia Wilde, John Legend and Kerry Washington among its growing list of about 90 celeb supporters. Crime experts, labor unions such as Unite Here, law enforcement groups, teachers and other community leaders are also a part of the bipartisan initiative to get the bill to pass.
“Prop 47 has really galvanized people to come together around this initiative. We’re talking to voters as much as possible,” says De La Rocha.
The coalition highlights the fact that California has built 22 prisons, but only one school over the past 30 years. Additionally, the state spends $62,300 per prisoner compared with just $9,100 on each K-12 student. If the bill passes, millions of dollars will be taken out of the prison budget and allocated toward education and better health services.
In a recent op-ed in The Huffington Post, the actress Olivia Wilde points out that the savings would be $750 million to $1.25 billion in just five years. “We’re united in this effort because our criminal justice system is tearing apart families for low-level crimes and draining community resources and tax coffers to pay for it. It hasn’t worked,” she writes.
Singer John Legend also expresses the urgency of getting the bill passed in an article and video (see below) for The Huffington Post: “America’s incarceration addiction has torn apart communities, disenfranchised millions of people — most for nonviolent offenses — and denied countless individuals an opportunity to gain employment, housing and even some of their most basic human rights,” he writes. “And it hasn’t made us any safer — more that 6 out of 10 prisoners return to prison after release while communities struggle with run down schools and inadequate resources.”
Simply getting out the vote could be the difference in Prop 47 passing. “We are really trying to get people to the polls because this bill can help bring home family members, their neighbors — people they actually know,” says Hampton. “[People] can’t believe that this is even an option on the ballot.”
Since September, the grass-roots organization has been going door to door and has talked to more than 200,000 first-time and unlikely voters in advance of the midterm elections on Nov. 4.
“I think Americans are finally understanding what a crisis we are in. [Prop 47] is a solution that could not only work in California, but could be replicated across the country,” says Hampton.