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December 17, 2011

Has there been a big new crime wave in California in recent months?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article headlined "California prison population drops by 8,000 since realignment." Here is how the article starts:

The number of inmates in California prisons has dropped by 8,000 since “realignment” took effect Oct. 1. Court papers state officials filed Thursday indicate the change. Officials reported the new numbers Thursday under a federal court order to reduce crowding in the prisons. In its monthly status report to the court, officials said the state prison population dropped by 8,218 between Oct. 5 and Dec. 7.

California prison officials say the transfer of low-level felons to county officials that began in October will allow the state to meet a court-ordered reduction a month after a Dec. 27 deadline.

The state’s prison population has declined from a record high of 173,000 in 2006 to the current population of 135,000. But many prisons remain packed with almost twice the number of inmates they were designed to hold.

The court order resulting in these prison reductions is the one upheld by the Supreme Court in Plata earlier this year despite strenuous objections and dire warnings of Justices Alito and Scalia and others about a likely spike in crime as a result. I am thus wondering, given that it appears that California is going to be soon complying with this court order, if there is developing evidence of a new crime wave.

I sincerely hope that there is an on-going effort to track the public safety impact of the prison population reductions in California, especially because it seems that different localities are responding to the influx of former prisoners in different ways. The process of prison realignment is thus creating a kind of post-prison community reentry natural experiment, and I would expect spikes in crime to vary in different localities based on both the nature of the offenders returning to the community and also how the communities are responding to the return of these offenders.

Only a few months into the realignment plan, it is surely to early to have clear or conclusive evidence on the public safety consequences of Plata and its aftermath. Still I am very eager to hear any early reports, especially from anyone actively working on these issues, about what we might know on this front so far.

December 17, 2011 at 10:05 AM | Permalink


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well since if there had been even ONE attack by a just released inmate i'm going to go with NO there has NOT been a CRIME WAVE or anything even close!

Posted by: rodsmith | Dec 17, 2011 12:35:04 PM

Just one sensationalized crime of one offender is clearly enough to set off a fire storm from those that have opposed AB109 Realignment. For years DA’s in each of California’s 58 counties have decided on the sentence and then passed the cost of incarceration onto the state. About 18 counties are responsible for the majority of California’s inmate population, some with much higher incarceration rates than others. AB109 has forced those counties to become responsible for the high rates of incarceration. Those counties that have long used alternatives to incarceration will feel little pain, while those with high rates struggle to find jail space. Sentencing reform would have resolved the problem, yet that option was never even considered. How California got into this mess was mandatory sentencing laws such as Three Strikes which accounts now for 25% of the entire prison population and tough on crime laws including those of the war on drugs. I have no doubt the Willie Horton affect will bring hysteria to this issue, but with years of decline in violent crime, it’s still hard to justify costly mass incarceration of low level offenders.

Posted by: Frank Courser | Dec 17, 2011 2:20:40 PM

Doug, the city where I live does indeed have a record number of homicides this year. (Not that I'm claiming causation on such scanty data, just answering the question.) For other crimes, there is a longer lag in the data, so it's too early to say anything.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Dec 18, 2011 7:15:46 PM

Are the elves keeping up with the toy orders at the North Pole? Debating fiction is fun but a waste of time. From start to finish, the criminal law is filled with fictitious facts, including fictitious, worthless crime statistics.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 19, 2011 1:21:57 AM

Where I live there has seeemingly been a rather large crime influx. I used to live in Antioch, CA and invariably has seen some major changes in public safety over the years. - Student

Posted by: Gabriel Ecigs | Sep 29, 2012 10:14:36 PM

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