In 2006, California reached a crisis point with prison overcrowding. With approximately 163.000 inmates, California’s prisons were at twice the capacity, which led then-Governor Schwarzenegger to declare a state of emergency due to the perilous conditions at 29 of the state’s 33 prisons. When California passed the Public Safety Realignment Act in 2011 as part of a federally mandated requirement to reduce the state’s prison population, there was a fear that such efforts would lead to a rise in crime.
A study released by the journal of the American Society of Criminology examined crime patterns between 2010 and 2014 to determine whether California’s significant reduction in the size of its prison population caused an increase in crime. The study found that the 17 percent reduction in the state’s prison population beginning in 2011 had no effect on aggregate rates of property or violent crime. Though the study did show a slight increase in auto theft crime in 2012 and 2013, those crimes rates had returned to the norm by 2014.
The results of this research mirror that of a 2013 study by the Public Policy Institute of California, which found that the state’s reduction in prison population had no adverse effect on public safety. Both studies provide evidence that efforts to curb mass incarceration can be accomplished without threatening public safety.
Efforts to Reduce California’s Prison Population
In 2009, a three-judge federal court panel ordered California to reduce prison overcrowding by specific benchmarks. The order required California to reduce the prison population to 137.5 percent of design capacity, or the number of inmates the facilities were supposed to house within two years. For California, this meant a reduction from 150,000 inmates to 110,000. The Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s order in 2011 and California passed the Public Safety Realignment Act that same year.
Under the Realignment Act, newly-convicted lower-level offenders without current or prior convictions for violent or sex-related offenses, were allowed to serve their sentence in county jail rather than state prison. The law also requires that individuals who violate their state parole be diverted to county jail unless he or she has received an indeterminate sentence. None of the inmates currently in state prison were released early or transferred to county jails as a result of the reforms.
Impact of California’s Public Safety Realignment Act
Within fifteen months of passing the Public Safety Realignment Act, the state prison population had been reduced by 27, 527 inmates. The most significant decline in the size of the prison population occurred in the first year of realignment and then leveled off.
The prison population dropped off again after California voters passed Proposition 47 in November of 2014. The measure reduced penalties for various drug and property crimes and led to a decrease in the prison population by nearly 7,800 inmates between November 2014 and August 2015. California has met the federally mandated target of 137.5 percent and the overall prison population has declined by 45 percent since it peaked in 2006.
San Diego Criminal Defense Attorneys With McElfresh Law Can Help
If you or a family member is charged with a crime, contact a San Diego criminal defense lawyer today for a free consultation. The attorneys at McElfresh Law have the experience needed to defend your rights and advocate for clients throughout all of San Diego and Southern California. We pride ourselves on offering compassionate, skilled representation and individualized service to each client.
Call us today at (858) 756-7107.