Toni’s Story: “I am Proposition 47.”
A few weeks before the November 2014 election, Toni Hunter stood before the Sacramento City Council to urge passage of a resolution supporting Proposition 47, a state ballot initiative to reclassify non-serious, non-violent crimes, such as shoplifting or petty theft, from felonies to misdemeanors. She summoned her courage and spoke her truth.
“I told them, I’m not just the face of Proposition 47 – I am Proposition 47,” Hunter recalled. “Yes, I have made many mistakes. But I learned from them. I’m not that person any more, and I want the opportunity to do something with my life.”
On Election Day, the initiative passed by a wide margin, clearing the way for Hunter to clear her felony record. Proposition 47 opened the doors for Hunter, at age 50, to start a new life.
For most of her adult life, Hunter was in and out of the justice system for petty theft. She shoplifted baby formula, clothes, bed linens and household items, which landed her in state prison five times since 1996. But that only made matters worse.
“Prison is a cesspool,” she said. “It doesn’t do anything but teach you different tools for being a criminal.”
In 2013, she was arrested yet again. But she learned that under the state’s Public Safety Realignment, she was eligible for Sacramento County’s newly created re-entry court. Defendants charged with low-level, non-violent crimes plead guilty, receive a suspended jail sentence, and then enroll in a year-long program of treatment and vocational courses to help them turn their lives around.
“People think re-entry court is taking the easy way out, but let me tell you it’s not,” she said.
In February 2015, Hunter graduated from re-entry court. On the same day, the judge reduced her last conviction to a misdemeanor, and she has applied to have the remaining felonies expunged from her record. At Sacramento City College, she’s pursuing degrees in business and addiction counseling. Her plan is to open a residential facility where people with behavioral addictions can get treatment and support.
“The sky’s the limit now,” she said. “Now that Proposition 47 is the law, there are no legal restrictions on what I’ll be able to do. Doors are now opened to me that previously would have been slammed in my face.”