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May 10, 2016

New study suggests California's prison population reduction via realignment has been generally successful

This new entry at The Crime Report, headlined "California's Prison Downsizing Offers a Model for Other States, Study Says," reports on notable new research suggesting that crime has not increased dramatically after California was force in the wake of the Plata ruling to reduce its prison population.  Here is the start of the entry describing the research:

The success of California's Public Safety Realignment Act in reducing state prison populations without a corresponding increase in crime suggests that other jurisdictions around the country can enact similar reforms without endangering public safety, according to a study published in the latest issue of Criminology & Public Policy, an American Society of Criminology journal.

The study, entitled “Is Downsizing Prisons Dangerous? The Effect of California’s Realignment Act on Public Safety” [available here], cites already published data showing that the 17 percent reduction in the size of California’s prison population over a 15-month period, beginning with the Act's implementation in 2011, did not have an effect on aggregate rates of violent crime or property crime.

"Moreover, 3 years after the passage of Realignment, California crime rates remain at levels comparable to what we would predict if the prison population had remained at 2010 levels," write authors Jody Sundt of Indiana University, Emily J. Salisbury of University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Mark G. Harmon of Portland State University.

The California results demonstrate that "we make a mistake...when we assume that prisons are the only meaningful or viable response to crime,” the authors add.

According to the data referenced in the study, the California Realignment Act reduced the size of the state’s prison population by 27, 527 inmates within 15 months. Many of the inmates were transferred to local jails or released into the community. Critics of the Act linked the policy to recorded increases in offenses such as auto theft. But the authors argued that the slight uptick in such offenses leveled off over time--and was not necessarily linked to realignment.

These results should serve as an object lesson for other jurisdictions, said the authors. "For the first time in decades it appears that a 'window of opportunity' for justice reform is opening to allow for a reevaluation of the effectiveness and wisdom of policies that have created the largest prison population in the world," they wrote, citing a phrase used by criminologist Michael Tonry.

May 10, 2016 at 04:03 PM | Permalink


Initially, the fact that most prison inmates have been on probation before being sent to prison would disprove the authors' conclusion that authorities "assume that prisons are the only meaningful/viable response to crime".

Second and more meaningfully, have the authors bothered to review the data since their "15 month period" after AB 109? There have been any number of measures since Realignment to continue reducing the number of criminals sent to prison, such as Senate Bills 230, 260 & 261, Propositions 36 & 47, so-called Non Violent Second Strike releases and added time credits, Elderly Parole, expanded Medical Parole, alternative custody programs and the like. Their combined effect has appeared to reverse what were historic reductions in crime and sent crime rates soaring again.

I would ask the authors if they have tried leaving their cars out overnight in San Francisco. They might have a different thesis the next morning...

Posted by: Cal prosecutor | May 10, 2016 7:47:16 PM

I am a criminal defense attorney in Baton Rouge, LA; and a member of the State Bar Criminal Justice Committee. We met just last week at a summit of the criminal justice leaders in the State, from both sides, and it was nice to see the willingness to consider decriminalization and sentence reform from DAs and Corrections officials.
It was also clear that the cost of prisons in Louisiana has gone down with overall prison population in the last 10 years, despite our leading the nation in incarcerated persons.
My question is about private prisons. As I understand some of the system in California in privatized? How does that work? I would think that those companies lobby the legislature against sentencing reform and decriminalization, because those ideas affect the bottom line? I am curious. www.ambeaulaw.com

Posted by: Jarrett Ambeau | May 11, 2016 8:28:51 AM

Mr. Ambeau,

California only has 1 private prison-the California City facility. Per the most current numbers, it houses 1,842 inmates. As of April 13, 2016, 113,249 inmates were housed in CDCR's 34 adult facilities with another 5,011 in out of state facilities.

Posted by: Cal prosecutor | May 11, 2016 10:58:44 AM

Cal prosecutor-
So your response to the results of this empirical study is simply to ignore its findings? Real professional. Your glib comments imply that this is also how you approach proof of a defendant's innocence: ignore it or bury it.

Crime rates are not soaring; they are flat. The only things that have been soaring are the the number of lives and families destroyed by over-incarceration, and the number of overpaid prosecutors and prison guards who have turned the incarceration of poor people into a business.

When people read posts by you and your ilk, they should realize that you are "talking your own book." That is, you are profiting handsomely from over-incarceration ad speaking from a place of fear that bloated budgets for prosecutors and prisons will become a thing of the past.

We used to have a wonderful public university system in California. Over the past two decades the funding for that system has literally been supplanted by funding for prisons. You and your kind indeed represent the one of the saddest episodes in the history of California. Thankfully, that episode is slowing coming to a close. I hope you are out of a job soon.

Posted by: Lasher | May 11, 2016 3:48:31 PM


Thanks for your insightful opinions. You have a nice day.

Posted by: Cal prosecutor | May 11, 2016 4:02:05 PM

Number of private GEO jail/detention center run facilities located in CA - 8
Number of private Corrections Corporation of America run facilities located in CA - 3
Sure Cal prosecutor one privately owned one but many more that are state or fed owned being run by CCA and GEO at a very steep cost to the taxpayer. I can certainly see what side your bread is buttered on. I hope not everyone believes the manure your trying to shovel. I'm in agreement with the Lasher on this one.

Posted by: Ed | May 11, 2016 6:49:06 PM


You might take a look at the most recent update to the Three-Judge Court (4/15/16) by the AG's Office. Only the California City facility (owned by CCA but leased, staffed & operated by CDCR) is the only private facility in California. CDCR does contract with 3 out-of-state facilities through the Contract Beds Unit for "overcrowding" purposes. Those units are in Arizona & Mississippi. The Oklahoma facility was recently closed.

Posted by: Cal prosecutor | May 13, 2016 12:22:20 PM

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