Study Finds No Evidence Prop. 47 Has Led to an Increase in Violent Crime

As early as 2015, Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig warned Yolo County Supervisors that Proposition 47 led to increasing property and violent crime Yolo County.

“Part of the problem with Prop. 47 is that it was flawed in its inception because it did not mandate drug rehabilitation in some appropriate manner for offenders,” Mr. Reisig told one publication in 2016.

A recent article published in the Appeal (the June 4 article, “Is the Yolo County District Attorney Betraying CA Voters?”) demonstrated how the Yolo County DA was using “his prosecutorial discretion to circumvent Proposition 47 and Proposition 57, two measures that passed in 2014 and 2016 intended to reduce state prison populations.”

The article shows current examples of how DA Reisig “is threatening to send people to prison for minor acts of theft.”

The article notes: “Reisig–like other nominally progressive district attorneys in California–opposed Prop 47 and Prop 57 when they were on the ballot. He argued that Prop 47 was a ‘revolving door’ on crime. In 2003 and 2010, his office had the highest rate of children charged as adults under California’s direct file law.”

Yesterday, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) published their latest data on whether Prop. 47 has increased crime or recidivism.  Their answer is no with respect to violent crime, but limited with respect to property crimes and no with respect to recidivism.

The report draws on statewide crime and arrest data provided by the California Department of Justice, as well as criminal justice data collected by a collaborative effort between the California Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC), PPIC, and a group of 12 California counties – the BSCC–PPIC Multi-County Study (MSC).

Passed by voters in 2014, Proposition 47 continued the state’s efforts to reduce incarceration. By the end of 2016, California’s prison and jail populations had dropped by more than 15,000 inmates, and the incarceration rate is now at levels not seen since the early 1990s.

There was an initial uptick in the violent crime rate from 2014 to 2016.  However, the report finds, contrary to the views expressed by critics, that “trend appears to have started before November 2014 and is due largely to unrelated changes in crime reporting.”

Meanwhile, they “find some evidence that Proposition 47 affected property crime. Statewide, property crime increased after 2014. While the reform had no apparent impact on burglaries or auto thefts, it may have contributed to a rise in larceny thefts, which increased by roughly 9 percent (about 135 more thefts per 100,000 residents) compared to other states.”

Crime data show that thefts from motor vehicles account for about three-quarters of this increase.

The key finding: “Despite recent upticks, California’s crime rates remain comparable to the low rates observed in the 1960s—even with the dramatic reductions in incarceration ushered in by recent criminal justice reforms.”

“The increases in some property crimes associated with Proposition 47 highlight the need to identify and implement alternative, cost-effective crime-prevention strategies,” said Magnus Lofstrom, report co-author and PPIC senior fellow.

The other key question is whether Prop. 47 reduced recidivism.

The report finds that the measure did lead to lower recidivism rates among lower-level offenders, reducing their rearrest and reconviction rates by 1.8 and 3.1 percentage points, respectively, compared to similar offenders before the reform.

“These overall declines were driven by substantial reductions in recidivism rates for Proposition 47 offenses. Rearrest and reconviction rates for these offenses were 10.3 and 11.3 percentage points lower, respectively, than for similar individuals before the reform,” the report states.

It concludes: “Our findings suggest that the measure reduced both arrests by law enforcement and convictions resulting from prosecutions by district attorneys. However, we are not able to separate the reform’s effects on reoffending from its effects on the practices of criminal justice agencies.”

Here are some other specific findings:

Crime Trends

California’s crime rates remain historically low. While violent crime rates increased by about 13 percent after Proposition 47, this trend appears to have preceded the reform—and was sparked by changes in crime reporting by the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

The FBI widened its definition of sexual crimes in 2014, which added about eight more violent crimes per 100,000 residents. Accounting for this change reduces the 2014–16 increase in the violent crime rate from 13 to 10.7 percent. That same year, the LAPD reformed its crime reporting after revelations that it had underreported violent crimes. When PPIC researchers examined statewide trends without LAPD statistics, the increase in violent crime drops to 6.4 percent. When authors accounted for both the FBI’s expanded definition of sexual crimes and the LAPD’s revised crime reporting, the 2014–16 increase drops to 4.7 percent.

To determine whether Proposition 47 affected crime rates, the report compares crime rates in California to those of states that historically have had very similar crime trends. The increase in California’s violent crime rate was less than that of comparison states. The 9 percent rise in larcenies, however, contrasts with the decline in comparison states.

Jail Bookings

Overall, jail bookings in the 12 counties studied decreased from almost 60,000 in October 2014 to 55,400 one year later—a decline of about 8 percent. Bookings declined among all racial/ethnic groups, but declines were relatively larger for whites and Latinos than for African Americans.

The overall decline was driven by a reduction in bookings for Proposition 47 drug and property offenses, which include check forgery, drug possession, receiving stolen property, and theft. Bookings for these offenses dropped by about 38 percent, from roughly 14,600 in October 2014 to 9,100 in October 2015.

“Proposition 47 was a further step in prioritizing prison and jail space—one of the most costly correctional interventions—for higher-level offenders in California,” said Mia Bird, PPIC fellow and report co-author. Additional co-authors include PPIC research associates Brandon Martin and Viet Nguyen, and UC Berkeley professor Steven Raphael.

Recidivism

The two-year reconviction rate for individuals released under Proposition 47 was 46 percent—or 3.1 percentage points lower than their pre-reform counterparts. The two-year rearrest rate also declined, from 72.6 percent to 70.8 percent. Although recidivism rates dropped, it is not clear to what extent this is driven by reduced reoffending, or by reductions in arrests and prosecutions by law enforcement and district attorneys.

Proposition 47 also called for redirecting savings from reduced prison incarceration to treatment interventions. But the allocation of that money has only recently begun, so the initiative’s full impact on treatment and recidivism is still unknown.

The report concludes: “Proposition 47 redirected the savings from reduced incarceration to treatment interventions, with the goal of reducing recidivism. While it is too early to know if this shift in funding has affected recidivism rates, in the coming years the state and counties will be better able to assess the impact of increased interventions and to identify promising strategies.

“As California continues to pursue criminal justice reforms, understanding the effects of Proposition 47 and local treatment programs will be essential to achieving further reductions in recidivism and maintaining public safety.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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21 thoughts on “Study Finds No Evidence Prop. 47 Has Led to an Increase in Violent Crime”

  1. Tia Will

    Jim

    While researchers can link the measure to more theft, they found it did not lead to the state’s increase in violent crime.” LA Times

    “it may have contributed to a rise in larceny thefts, which increased by roughly 9 percent (about 135 more thefts per 100,000 residents) compared to other states.” Vanguard

    I don’t see how you see this as “the opposite conclusion”. Both the LA Times article quoted above and David note the increase in larceny while noting definitional changes in sexual crime and reporting differences in other violent crime.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Just point out that technically it was the AP, not the LA Times. I think the only difference was I emphasized the no impact of violent crime, they noted the rise of a specific kind of larceny.

    2. Howard P

      “definitional”?  I think not… numbers appear to be within margins of error/accuracy of data… I believe that Prop 47 is neither a “God-send”, nor a “plague”, as to crime rates… we’ll see over the years, but right now seems like “no harm, no foul”… time will tell… see no need to re-think 47…

      Agree with the premise of the article… no convincing evidence that prop 47 has had a negative effect… also, no convincing evidence that it has a positive effect.

  2. Jeff M

    It has become clear to me during the Reisig vs Johansson campaign and before that majority of the anti-law enforcement / pro-criminal social justice crusade is connected to a mindset that larceny, property crimes and drug crimes should be re-framed with a sort of victim-culture Affirmative Action consideration.   Now the people promulgating this push for re-framing are either unwilling to admit it, or they are just responding to their overheated fairness/harm/underdog moral filter and have not really finished the full intellectual effort to conclude the consequences of it.

    This is how I think they see it…

    These people that are addicted to drugs, are poor, have mental health problems… often from a life of substance abuse, a tragic upbringing from broken families… or that belong to a sanctioned-minority victim group (whites and Asians primarily excluded unless maybe they own any previously listed attributes)… well they should be given many more chances and ultimately a pass for their transgressions.   Even threats of violence should be ignored as clearly they are acting out due to their frustration for being cut out of the tremendous wealth that stems from white (and Asian) privilege (and isn’t really a consequence of hard work, self-determination and compliance with the laws of the land as those (mostly white) conservatives would have you believe.

    Do I have that right?  I think so.

    And so just think of the anti-law enforcement, pro-criminal social justice crusade as just wanting to tax everyone more to benefit these “victims” that they advocate for.  You should just accept that more of your stuff will be stolen and just get over it because if you have stuff that their clients would want to rip off, you must be privileged.

        1. rrdavis

          No one thinks you’re supposed to be happy about an increase in property crime. Why would anyone be happy about that? Nonetheless, I’m happy with the law. It seemed like a reasonable measure to help lower our prison population as mandated by that pesky Constitution of the United States. It at least seemed better than the alternatives. To the extent it has served its purpose (reducing the prison population), I’m glad. To the extent it hasn’t increased violent crime, I’m glad. To the extent it has led to an increase in property crime, I’m unhappy. This is all seems very consistent.

        2. David Greenwald

          This was what they looked at: “To determine whether Proposition 47 affected crime rates, the report compares crime rates in California to those of states that historically have had very similar crime trends. The increase in California’s violent crime rate was less than that of comparison states. The 9 percent rise in larcenies, however, contrasts with the decline in comparison states.”

          So does that mean that Prop 47 *caused* larcenies to go up?  No.  But it might be a correlation.

          I’m supportive of Prop 47.  My general belief has been that there would be some volatility in crime numbers as the system sorts itself out but I don’t believe crime will go up in the long term.  I found this report reassuring that violent crime is not going up, because that has the potential to thwart some of the reform.

      1. Richard McCann

        Note that the study found most of the property crime increase in auto breakins. There has been a rash in San Francisco, but it’s not clear what the cause is. It appears to be driven more by the increase in tourism and increased wealth in SF than due to changes in consequences. https://projects.sfchronicle.com/2018/sf-car-breakins/

      2. Howard P

        … that Prop 47 has caused property thefts to rise.

        Causality“?  Cite your evidence… “Correlation”, maybe… “Stuff happens” (aka random), maybe…  methinks it is too soon to seriously, rationally, weigh cause/effects… but rant on, McDuff… get it out of your system… but, have you contributed anything worthy of serious consideration in this matter.?

        47 was a “coin flip” for me… I say again, it was neither a panacea, nor a plague… too early to judge… there is a concept called “inertia”… things that were “trending”, but not miraculously reversed…

      3. Howard P

        Keith… you conveniently/purposely do not address your assertion of “causality”… therefore, have to assume it is BS… you have had plenty of time to back up your assertion… you have chosen not to…

    1. Richard McCann

      Here’s an article that directly addresses the issue of “white privilege”–it’s real and a key source of the division in our society today.  https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/06/the-birth-of-a-new-american-aristocracy/559130/

      1. Jeff M

        Sure, because it comes from the Atlantic it is real.   It is the biggest bunch of hogwash ever cooked up by the armies of never ending leftism.

        The REAL privilege belongs to those with academic gifts and resources.  Ironically they are also the cohort that cranks out these BS studies to claim that the privilege is based on skin color.  Quite self-serving don’t you think?

        BTW… thanks for confirming what I wrote.

      2. Jeff M

        I don’t know you Richard, but the fact that you used the term “white privilege” cause you to lose every shred of credibility that I would prefer you otherwise retain to have an informed discussion on this topic.

        Have you read any Murray… “Coming Apart”?

        Of course the left mob wants to burn him down for having the stones to publish data-backed opinions that conflict with the “white privilege” meme they rely on like the pious rely on scripture.

        The irony and hypocrisy in this (that I alluded to above) is that this great divide is basically the new upper professional class (which is primarily liberal) and everyone else.  It is the new upper professional class against the old working class (that have less opportunity to break into the upper class) and the poor (that have less opportunity to break into the old working class)… that are at greater odds because the new upper class have both actively implemented government policies that have decimated the economic opportunity of the poor and working class, while also passively assuming the income and wealth benefits of the new high-tech and information economy.

        So those same people came up with the deflective narrative of “white privilege” to turn eyes away from their new upper professional class privilege.   It is just one of many virtue signaling methods they have adopted.   It has worked to some degree because the schools and the lefty media parrot it.  Lefty propaganda rags like The Atlantic publish the drivel that the too-lazy-to-think morons adopt as gospel.

        But it is crap.

        The election of Donald J. Trump was the beginning of the end to the charade.   The old working class sees what is going on, and the poor are starting to wake up.  The new upper class wants the schools to suck, and for manufacturing and other industry to go away… because they know that having the wealth means also having the political power to keep others from having the wealth.

        If you really cared about income and wealth disparity in this country and wanted to see the gaps reduced, you would be in support of most of the Trump agenda.  But my guess is that you don’t.  Instead you will keep repeating the fake news of “white privilege”

  3. John Hobbs

    “victim-culture Affirmative Action consideration.””the anti-law enforcement / pro-criminal social justice crusade ”

    “the armies of never ending leftism.”

    David, you only encourage his native paranoia by responding to his invariably off-topic and delusional posts.

    [moderator] Please stop the attacks on other Vanguard participants.

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