The Golden State’s move to ease prison overcrowding — known as corrections realignment — was put in place by a federal court order that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 2011. As a result, 18,000 offenders who previously would have been in prison or jail are no longer behind bars, the PPIC report found.
The PPIC report found it’s not clear whether realignment caused California’s 3.4% increase in violent crime between 2011 and 2012 (presumably because the released offenders are largely nonviolent).
But there’s definitely evidence of a link between property crime and realignment, according to the PPIC. While property crime in the nation as a whole decreased by .9% from 2011 to 2012, it spiked in California by 7.8%. That year, car thefts in California went up a whopping 14.8%, reversing a downward trend. From the report:
We do find convincing and robust evidence of an effect on property crime. We observe that property crime increased with the implementation of realignment by a rate that exceeds the rate nationwide — and, more important, by a rate that exceeds that of a group of states with pre-realignment crime trends similar to those in California.
The PPIC, a nonpartisan think tank, does not necessarily recommend that California start jailing more people again in order to reduce property crime. More from the report:
When we compare the costs of incarceration to those of alternative crime-reducing strategies, we find that incarceration is an expensive way to maintain public safety. We suggest that these alternative strategies are likely to provide improved outcomes at lower costs. In particular, our analysis suggests that more crimes, between 3.5 and 7 times as many, would be prevented by spending an additional dollar on policing rather than on prison incarceration.
“For years the medical and mental health care provided by California’s prisons has fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements and has failed to meet prisoners’ basic health needs,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his decision.
Since that decision, California’s governor Jerry Brown has tried to get extensions on the court mandate to release prisoners amid concerns over public safety. The Supreme Court rejected his request for an extension in August, citing the need to protect prisoners’ Constitutional rights.
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