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March 15, 2016

"Is Proposition 47 to Blame for California's 2015 Increase in Urban Crime?"

The question in the title of this post is a question a lot of persons who are following the broader national debate over sentencing reform are asking (as highlighted via this post by Bill Otis over at Crime & Consequences). It is also the title of this new research report authored by a researcher at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. Here is the full textual of the introduction to the eight-page CJCJ report:

In November 2014, nearly 60 percent of California’s electorate voted to pass Proposition 47. This proposition made substantial sentencing reforms by reducing certain nonviolent, non-serious offenses, such as minor drug possession and shoplifting, from felonies to misdemeanors (CJCJ, 2014). Because the changes made by the new law applied retroactively, incarcerated people serving felony sentences for offenses affected by Proposition 47 were eligible to apply for resentencing to shorten their sentences or to be released outright.  Those who already completed felony sentences for Proposition 47 offenses could also apply to change their criminal records to reflect the reforms.

Critics of Proposition 47 contended it would increase crime by releasing those convicted of dangerous or violent felonies early (see “Arguments Against Proposition 47,” 2014). Opponents also suggested that reducing the severity of sentences for certain felonies would fail to deter people from committing crimes or completing court-ordered probation requirements.

In the initial months following the passage of Proposition 47, California’s jail population dropped by about 9,000 between November 2014 and March 2015 (the most recent date for which county jail figures are available at this time) (BSCC, 2016).  State prisons reported over 4,500 releases attributed to Proposition 47 (CDCR, 2016), for a total incarcerated population decline of more than 6 percent — a substantial decrease. Similar to the initial year after Public Safety Realignment took effect, January-June 2015 saw general increases in both violent and property crime in California’s cities with populations of 100,000 or more (Table 1).  During this period, homicide and burglary showed slight declines, while other Part I violent and property offenses experienced increases.

Is Proposition 47 to blame for the increases in reported urban crimes?  This report tests this question by comparing changes in crime rates, from January–June 2014 and January–June 2015, in California’s 68 largest cities to changes in: (a) county jail populations and (b) Proposition 47-related discharges and releases from prison to resentencing counties.

March 15, 2016 at 12:12 PM | Permalink


Step 1: Make prisons as bleak and hopeless as possible

Step 2: Send non-violent people to prison for petty crimes

Step 3: Release these people back in to society, after taking their lives from them, and make it nearly impossible to find jobs and housing

Step 4: Blame the act of "releasing them" when they commit real crimes

Posted by: Joe | Mar 15, 2016 1:22:56 PM

It's only eight pages, half if you take out charts and notes, but to cut to the chase ... though it might be too early to tell, the evidence is deemed to say "no."

Posted by: Joe | Mar 15, 2016 2:38:02 PM

Please elaborate on your suggestion that people are sent to prison for petty crimes. I'm especially curious about what you classify as petty crimes.

Posted by: USPO | Mar 15, 2016 2:38:27 PM

The other Joe can reply, but people are sent to prison for petty crimes, right?

Petty crimes (I take that would include misdemeanors though it might be defined to apply to some felonies, such as possession of certain drugs or small time sales) do at times result in jail time and/or civil penalties that hurt obtaining jobs and housing.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 15, 2016 3:08:39 PM

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