After historic lows in crime, crime has ticked back up in the past year. There is a lot of finger-pointing, but the fact of the matter is that we won’t know for a few years if this is the beginning of a new trend or simply a temporary blip in a continued downward trend.
In California, the blame is being placed on Proposition 47 and, to a lesser extent, AB 109. Many of the people pointing the finger are those who opposed Prop. 47 in the first place and have a vested interest in seeing it fail.
Last week Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig, in a report to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, put the blame squarely on Prop. 47.
He noted reports from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) which show that California is leading the way in violent crime increases, and violent crime is rising faster in Sacramento than in other large cities. This, he argues, bleeds into what is happening in Yolo County.
“All of the major cities in Yolo County, Davis, Woodland and West Sacramento, have seen increases in violent crime and property crime in 2015,” he said. “We are surrounded by the very imminent threat, and I don’t think it’s going away.”
“We have this large Prop. 47 population which we really don’t have much of a stick any more to get them into treatment,” he said. “If we can’t get them into treatment, it’s like rolling through a spinning turnstile. That’s the problem.”
“Our efforts so far have been pretty dismal,” he said.
But research, while probably premature, at least casts some doubt on the conclusion that Prop. 47 is the driving force in the uptick in crime.
Is Proposition 47 to blame for the increases in reported urban crimes? That is the question, Mike Males, Senior Research Fellow at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, puts to a test.
The study compares “changes in crime rates, from January–June 2014 and January –June 2015, in California’s 68 largest cities to changes in: (a) county jail populations and (b) Proposition 47-related discharges and releases from prison to resentencing counties.”
Mr. Males argues, “If the reduction in local jail populations after Proposition 47 passed in November 2014 is responsible for the urban crime increase in early 2015, as some sources are arguing, then cities in counties with the largest reductions in jail populations in 2015 would show the biggest increases in crime. However, the data suggest this is not the case.”
“In fact, the cities in 11 counties with the largest decreases in both total jail populations and felony jail populations showed equivalent changes in violent crime, and smaller increases in property and total crime, than the cities in 10 counties with the smallest decreases in jail populations. In these 11 counties (total urban population 7.4 million) with larger jail population decreases (total average jail ADPs decreased 15 percent, average felony ADPs dropped 18 percent), the overall crime rate increased by only 1 percent. In the 10 counties (urban population 5.3 million) with smaller jail population decreases (total average jail ADP decreased 7 percent, average felony ADPs dropped 11 percent), overall crime increased by 6 percent. Both sets of counties experienced violent crime increases of 9 percent, while the 11 large jail population decrease counties saw no increase in property crime. Significantly, the 10 smaller jail population decrease counties experienced a six percent increase in property crime. Los Angeles County (shown separately due to the unreliability of its 2014 crime statistics) had a lesser decrease in total jail ADP and an average decrease in felony jail ADP, while the city of Los Angeles saw more unfavorable crime trends than the state as a whole.”
Mr. Males writes, “The results shown in Table 3 suggest, much like in Table 2, that, at this time, available data does not show a correlation between Proposition 47 and the total 2015 crime increase. The 10 resentencing counties with the most per capita discharges/releases as a result of Proposition 47 (averaging 17 prison discharges/releases per 100,000 population) showed much lower increases in their cities’ total Part I crime rates than did those counties less impacted by Proposition 47 (4.2 discharges/releases). While violent crime did increase in counties with larger than average Proposition 47-related discharges/releases, overall the experiences of individual cities and counties were too variable to draw conclusions regarding patterns or causality.”
Conclusion and Local Commentary
Based on this, Mr. Males concludes that “there are no obvious effects associated with Proposition 47 that would be expected if the reform had a significant and consistent impact on crime. In fact, many cities in counties that experienced larger declines in local and state incarcerated populations after Proposition 47 took effect had more favorable crime trends.”
Like the Vanguard, he concludes, “It is too early to conclusively measure the effects of Proposition 47 on crime rates just one year after the law took effect. The urban crime increase in the first half of 2015 could be a normal fluctuation, such as those that occurred from 1999 to 2001 or from 2005 to 2006 (CJSC, 2016). Initial trends are often reversed later. In the case of Realignment, implemented in 2011, crime initially increased in 2012, but later declined sharply in 2013 and 2014.”
Finally, he writes, “the counties that show the largest jail and prison population decreases as well as more favorable municipal crime trends (such as in Contra Costa, San Joaquin, and Santa Barbara) can be further examined for potential model practices.”
This follows the chief criticism we have leveled at the Yolo County DA. The expectation was that these sorts of crimes would result in treatment options, with the money freed up from savings on incarceration. That part hasn’t happened. And while opponents of Prop. 47 like Jeff Reisig lament the rise in crime, they fail to take responsibility for their part in it.
Sources tell the Vanguard that there was a treatment plan that would have been implemented in Yolo County, that all the other stakeholders had agreed to, but the district attorney himself blocked it.
Yolo County has some options that the DA has reportedly refused to utilize. One possibility is to divert Prop. 47 defendants into treatment at the Yolo County Day Reporting Center. The DRC was opened in February 2013 and it provides vocational training, life skills which are designed to teach offenders the skills they need to find a job.
One of the programs they have includes drug and alcohol treatments. That is an existing program that has received high marks.
The other thing that the DRC can do is job training, providing vocational and life skills to help them get a job.
From our standpoint, Mr. Reisig has a potential solution right in front of his nose, and refuses to use it. Earlier in his presentation he bragged about the success of the Neighborhood Court diversion program and how jurisdictions across the state and even the nation were looking to adopt it.
While the Neighborhood Court program has a lot of potential, advocates of restorative justice approaches argue that we should go further – much further. In November 2013, the Vanguard featured Fresno County Judge David Gottlieb as a speaker and he had implemented a restorative justice program in Fresno involving youth offenders.
Since 1982, Fresno County has had something called a VORP – Victim Offender Reconciliation Program – which has the ability to bring “victims and offenders together in safe mediation or family group conference settings to permit the offender to take responsibility for his or her actions, to make things as right as possible with the victim, and to be clear about future intentions.”
Right now the Yolo County program focuses mainly on victimless crimes, but Fresno has for 30 years been far ahead, bringing victims and offenders together.
Many have falsely argued that programs like restorative justice approaches are “soft” responses to crime. However, they are missing a crucial element. In a punishment-based system, the individual is incarcerated. They often maintain their innocence and rarely have to take responsibility for their crimes.
The district attorney, at the very least, has the opportunity to introduce a restorative justice program for what would now be petty theft charges when an individual steals less than $900 worth of property. Why not implement the Neighborhood Court as part of the process to deal with those individuals?
It is not that the expansion of the Neighborhood Court alone will resolve the problem, but the implementation of a real treatment plan along with an expansion of the Neighborhood Court will at least allow us to look at proactive solutions, rather than waving our hands and complaining about voter-implemented policies that the county cannot change.
—David M. Greenwald reporting