A California policy center has concluded that sending low-level felons to county jails instead of state prisons had “a very limited impact on crime,” resulting in increased auto thefts but no effect on violent offenses.
The report, released this week by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, relies on crime data from the FBI for 2013 and 2012.
The think tank notes that the FBI’s reported drop in violent crime in California to a 36-year low — 396 violent crimes reported per 100,000 residents — kept pace with a national decline.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2011 prison overhaul, called “realignment,” reduced the state prison population by about 27,000 inmates in its first year by keeping lower-level felons in county jails to serve their sentences after conviction rather than ship them to state prisons.
Crowded jail conditions resulted in widespread early releases. By the PPIC's estimates, about 18,000 offenders who before realignment would have been in prison were on the streets in 2012. The group said that situation remained largely unchanged in 2013.
The study concluded that the frequency of violent crimes such as murder, rape and robbery was unaffected by the governor’s new policy. Those crime rates declined over the two years on par with those in other states.
Property crimes also declined, but not as much. After rising in 2012, motor vehicle thefts fell slightly in 2013, leaving them still 10% higher than in 2011 and setting California apart from what the PPIC considered comparable states.
The research group said it found “no evidence that realignment has so far had an impact on violent crime rates.” But it did find “a noticeable rise in motor vehicle thefts.”
Based on what happened in other states, the PPIC report concluded that realignment increased the auto theft rate by about 17%.