Report: Crime rates stable after state’s passage of sentencing reforms

SACRAMENTO – To deal with federal court orders demanding a reduction in prison populations, California officials – and state voters, via initiative – passed a series of sentencing reforms over the past seven years that have reduced overcrowding from 181 percent of capacity to 137.5 percent capacity. That’s a reduction of 33,000 inmates.

The main policy is known as realignment. Pushed through by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011, the two new laws allow “non-violent, non-serious and non-sex offenders to serve their sentence in county jails instead of state prisons,” according to an explanation from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The department says that no state prisoners had their time reduced and that the laws did not provide any early releases.

The second policy is Proposition 47, a statewide initiative that passed 60 percent to 40 percent in November 2014. As Ballotpedia explains, the initiative “classified ‘non-serious, nonviolent crimes’ as misdemeanors instead of felonies unless the defendant has prior convictions for murder, rape, certain sex offenses or certain gun crimes.” It also permitted resentencing “for those currently serving a prison sentence for any of the offenses that the initiative reduces to misdemeanors.” That measure did therefore lead to early releases.

The state passed a variety of other sentencing-reform measures beginning in 2010. For instance, California had long taken a tough-on-crime approach, including passage of the nation’s toughest “three strikes and you’re out” laws in 1994, in the midst of frighteningly high crime rates. But even that signature crime-fighting law was revised, as voters passed, 70 percent to 30 percent, a 2012 statewide initiative that required a life sentence only if the third strike were serious or violent.

The new laws reduced prison overcrowding, although they didn’t actually reduce the amount of tax dollars spent on the prison system. The big question: What have they done to crime rates? A spike in some crimes over that period has led to a vociferous debate, with Republicans and some moderate Democrats fanning fears of a crime wave. One Republican gubernatorial candidate, Abel Maldonado, ran for governor in 2014 on an anti-crime platform, but didn’t gain traction.

Currently, Democratic Assemblyman Jim Cooper, a former sheriff’s captain from Elk Grove, is leading efforts qualify a ballot measure for the 2018 general election that would roll back much of Proposition 47. It also would roll back the loosened parole requirements in Proposition 57, which passed on the 2016 statewide ballot, and expand the list of crimes that requires collection of the perpetrator’s DNA, according to an Associated Press report.

Such pushback is due in large part to fears of growing crime rates. “Since the passage of Proposition 47 by voters in 2014 and the signing of AB109 in 2011, violent crime has been on the rise in California, up 12 percent in 2015 statewide according to the FBI,” according to a statement in March by Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Riverside County. Politifact double-checked his claim and found a one-year violent crime increase (from 2014 to 2015) of 8.4 percent.

That’s certainly enough to spark concern, but it’s hard to assess crime data based on short periods of time – and even harder to trace crime increases or decreases to any particular policy cause. New research from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice looked at the entire 2010-2016 period of criminal-justice policy reform and found some mixed results. Overall, however, the group explains that the state’s crime rate was “stable” over that time.

“Urban crime rates in California declined precipitously through the 1990s and 2000s,” wrote author Mike Males. “Since 2010, crime in California has stabilized, hovering near historically low levels.” Males compared the first six months of 2016 (the latest reporting period) with the first six months of 2010 and found that “total crime rates experienced no net change, while property crime declined by 1 percent and violent crime increased by 3 percent.”

National crime data show a small overall uptick nationwide, which might suggest that something other than California-only realignment and sentencing reform policies were at work here. Crime data often is affected more by local factors, and indeed the study finds that “crime rates at the local level have varied considerably.” For instance, crime rates shot up 18 percent in Downey, but dropped an astounding 29 percent in Santa Clara.

Regarding the big cities, the report found increased violent crime rates in Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles and San Jose – but lower violent crime rates in Oakland, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco. Likewise, some big cities (Long Beach, Los Angeles and San Diego) faced rising property crimes, but others (Fresno, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco and San Jose) saw falling rates of property crime from 2010 to 2016.

The report found “no visible change” due to realignment and called for “more data” before “drawing conclusions about Prop. 47’s effect on crime.” Other studies from last year echo these conclusions. These numbers, based on the newest FBI statistics, suggest that current concerns about a justice-reform-driven crime wave are overblown.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at [email protected]


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  1. Dude
    Dude 1 November, 2017, 11:31

    I hope Brown Streak gets mugged.

    Reply this comment
  2. Standing Fast
    Standing Fast 1 November, 2017, 13:37

    If anyone really believes crime rates are stable since the prison reforms, you are in dreamland.

    The reason it looks that way is because police officers are not arresting suspects for “non-violent” crimes that will not result in punishment.

    Property theft is now considered non-violent, so criminals roam free in our neighborhoods, prowling and purloining to their hearts’ content, while we live like prisoners in our own homes.

    The new laws change the rules so that crimes that used to be punished by prison terms are now considered “petty” enough to be considered a nuisance to the justice system. Why spend taxpayers’ money chasing folks who can’t be put in prison?

    If you really want to know what is going on, talk to a police officer. Or watch the Justice Network.

    Reply this comment
    • ricky65
      ricky65 1 November, 2017, 13:52

      That’s right. Hard to get a cop to show up for minor crimes like vandalism, car burglary, or petty theft. Those used to be jail-able offenses but now the cops apparently have their hands full with big stuff. I understand some of the bigger stores tell their employees not to even try to stop shoplifters as someone could get hurt or they could be sued.
      BTW: I see Polifact conceded there was an 8.4% violent crime increase in Cali in 2014-15. Not sure if more recent info is available for 2016-17 year, but that is not an insignificant number.

      Reply this comment
      • Standing Fast
        Standing Fast 1 November, 2017, 15:41

        Thank you, Ricky!

        In California, the homeless issue is all mixed up in this prison-reform business, too.

        Reply this comment
  3. Queeg
    Queeg 2 November, 2017, 10:07


    This article is Fake News……..

    Reply this comment
    • Standing Fast
      Standing Fast 2 November, 2017, 16:13

      Comrade Queeg:

      Fake how?

      Reply this comment
      • blak
        blak 2 November, 2017, 23:11

        Standing Fast –

        The periods compared in the article (first half 2010 and first half 2016) are cherry picked to create the “factual” headline of “Crime rates stable after state’s passage of sentencing reforms”.

        If you click their own politifact link you can see: ” Politifact double-checked his claim and found a one-year violent crime increase (from 2014 to 2015) of 8.4 percent.” So comparing more recent years shows a noticeable increase (because crime had been falling for decades).

        There is also an effect on arrest numbers(this is what the FBI stats are) because many property crime and some violent crimes were downgraded in severity by Prop 47. Also via AB109, many repeat offenders won’t be given new charges or parole/probation violations, etc. I think this would help to dampen any real increase.

        Reply this comment
        • ricky65
          ricky65 3 November, 2017, 08:10

          Excellent points. Why the drop in crime? Well its pretty simple. Just re-classify dozens of so-called ‘petty’ crimes like assault, burglary, etc from felonies to misdemeanors and watch the statistics decline.
          Nobody out here in the real world believes this nonsense about a drop in crime. It was all part of Moonbat and his D-Rat toadies big plan to hide the spike in crime so as not to endanger their re-election plans.
          I suppose next we can expect them to legalize murder so that they can then claim the homicide rate in Cali has dropped to zero.

          Reply this comment
        • Standing Fast
          Standing Fast 3 November, 2017, 13:32

          Thanks for filling in the blanks. I already knew about the downgrades on crimes, but have not seen the FBI data so I was curious how they arrived at their conclusion. Obviously, they intended to deceive the public.

          I hope you will write an Op-Ed piece or at least a Letter to the Editor about this. Your explanation is easy to follow and wipes out the folks who published this fakery.

          I think it is interesting that the actual increase in crime and difficulty law enforcement has protecting us that is happening now was predicted by opponents of these stupid laws before they were adopted. That is bad enough. But, it’s the predictions of what will happen next that should be on our radar now.

          We need to abolish Props 47, 57, AB-109 and any other stupid law that puts criminals ahead of citizens.

          Contact your legislators and tell them. Come election time, contact all the state and local legislators on your ballot and ask them if they support abolition of these laws. If they say no, tell them you can’t support them. If they say yes, ask them to make a public statement and add it to their campaign platform. If they do, then work hard to get them elected. Tell your friends to do the same.

          Speak up, speak out, spread the word!

          Do this with taxes and spending issues, too.

          Reply this comment
  4. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 3 November, 2017, 00:45

    As we said it once we’ll say it again CALIFORNIA NEEDS A BROWN OUT

    Reply this comment
  5. Leaving Soon
    Leaving Soon 7 November, 2017, 17:02

    So you really think we are that dumb to believe this article? Anyone with half a brain knows the crime is through the roof. Who is this group that conducted this study. Must have an agenda. Don’t insult our intelligence by posting articles citing suspect sources.

    Reply this comment
  6. Queeg
    Queeg 12 November, 2017, 19:42

    Comrade Leaver

    Big Government needs mega help to meet respectable performance metrics…..the sad part… many cloud/filter all this data out there.

    Reply this comment
  7. Tim
    Tim 13 May, 2018, 11:18

    In other words, Living with more criminals on the street is definitely the answer to crime stability…

    Reply this comment

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Tags assigned to this article:
crimecriminal justicelaw enforcementProp. 47AB109

Steven Greenhut

Steven Greenhut

Steven Greenhut is CalWatchdog’s contributing editor. Greenhut was deputy editor and columnist for The Orange County Register for 11 years. He is author of the new book, “Plunder! How Public Employee Unions are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation.”

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