Analysis: Is Prop 47 to Blame For Increase in Crime in California?

Mass Incarceration

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.

Crime-Males-2

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.”

He notes:

“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.”

Crime-Males-2

Crime-Males-3

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

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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18 Comments

  1. zaqzaq

    David,

    You as an advocate for AB 109 and Prop 47 also have a vested interest in seeing it succeed that includes putting an positive spin on it that you can find.  In a previous article you noted that a study showed that only 5% of those individuals released early from state prison for Prop 47 crimes were returned to state prison touting it as a success.  What spin.  The problem with that claim is that 5% were convicted of committing more serious felonies than the Prop 47 offense that they were released from prison for.  The study did not look at how many of the Prop 47 inmates that were released early committed Prop 47 crimes or other misdemeanors during that same time period.  Hmmm.

    You are touting treatment and training through the DRC along with the expansion of the Neighborhood Court program which uses restorative justice.  First lets look at the treatment and training alternative.   Now that these Prop 47 crimes are misdemeanors these criminals are not looking at long prison sentences if they do not participate in programs.  The Chief Probation Officer for Yolo County lamented that now the criminals on probation are choosing to do short jail terms and spurn treatment and training.  You just ignore the fact that there is no longer any motive for the criminal to participate.  The Los Angeles Times noted that drug treatment programs were unable to fill their beds due to this changing landscape.  Remember that you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink.  Based on this fact your arguments advocating more treatment is illusory.

    Concerning the Neighborhood Court program you have never explained how it works.  You just advocate for its expansion.  When are you going to explain how this program works and how restorative justice is used? If you do not understand how this program works how can you advocate for its expansion.  You refer to the Fresno program for juveniles.  Is there a similar program for adults in Fresno or are we comparing apples to oranges here.  Does Fresno make the victims participate or is it voluntary?  The same question for Yolo.  Is it possible that the majority of victims in both counties simply choose not to participate in the program if given the choice?  I looked at the DA’s website on Neighborhood Court in the past when you mentioned it and noticed that crimes such as battery, theft and vandalism to name a few crimes that have victims were on the list.

    By the way I never saw the outcome for the robbery involving the soda and BB gun and can only assume that he was convicted since there was not coverage here.  It would be nice to see the final outcome on all cases that you cover to include the punishment handed out.  It is like missing the season finale for a TV series that has a cliffhanger in the previous episode.

    1. David Greenwald

      I don’t consider a vested interest. I certainly support the program, but I have nothing to gain from it succeeding.

      “The study did not look at how many of the Prop 47 inmates that were released early committed Prop 47 crimes or other misdemeanors during that same time period. ”

      No the study used comparative statics to look at the crime rate for the areas with more released inmates versus areas with less and found that crime rate was not correlated with releases. It’s one approach to the analysis. You say, hmmm, but I suspect (A) availability that data is more limited and (B) the overall crime rate seems to be the issue.

      “Based on this fact your arguments advocating more treatment is illusory.”

      The question is whether you can make a treatment option available and whether that will lead to a better outcome. Thus far, I have not seen the system really working this angle and so of course its illusory. I just wonder if part of that problem is that the system isn’t trying to make it work. The blame gets shifted to the judges, but in how many cases is the DA holding out to attempt maximum enforcement? After all, they don’t have to accept plea deals.

      “Concerning the Neighborhood Court program you have never explained how it works. ”

      We had a long presentation by Judge Gottlieb back in 2013 about how a VORP works in Fresno County. Why haven’t we expanded that concept beyond victimless offenses?

      “By the way I never saw the outcome for the robbery involving the soda and BB gun and can only assume that he was convicted since there was not coverage here. It would be nice to see the final outcome on all cases that you cover to include the punishment handed out. It is like missing the season finale for a TV series that has a cliffhanger in the previous episode.”

      I don’t have a fulltime court reporter, so sometimes verdicts are hit and miss. I believe that one was guilty, but I wouldn’t assume that just because we missed the verdict, that it was a guilty verdict. If you are interested in helping us get the funding for a fulltime court reporter, please let me know. Otherwise you are basically going to have to accept our limitations.

      1. zaqzaq

        The study assumes that the released inmate remains in the county or city they were released into.

        “We had a long presentation by Judge Gottlieb back in 2013 about how a VORP works in Fresno County. Why haven’t we expanded that concept beyond victimless offenses?”

        How do you know victims are not allowed to participate in Neighborhood Court?  The listed crimes have victims.  You appear to assume that every restorative justice program is identical to the VORP program.  I think you assume to much.  Again stop asking for the expansion of a program that you clearly do not understand.  Ignorance is bliss.

        “The question is whether you can make a treatment option available and whether that will lead to a better outcome.”  

        The point of the LA Times article was that available treatment options were not being used.  They had empty beds in residential treatment programs.  You are still ignoring the Yolo Chief Probation officers statement that criminals are opting for short jail sentences and instead of treatment.  You fail to give specific examples of treatment options that are not already available.  You cannot make the criminals who you want to go into treatment participate in treatment just because you want it to work.  Stop touting treatment as the needed option when the criminals appear to not want to participate do to light sentences resulting from Prop 47.  What is the mystery treatment program that a “source” told you was blocked by the DA?  How is it different than already existing and available programs. Please back up your innuendo with real facts that support your position.  Otherwise all you are doing is spouting off unsubstantiated opinion that reminds me of a Trump stump speech.

  2. Barack Palin

    From the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice website:

    The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) is a nonprofit nonpartisan organization whose mission is to reduce society’s reliance on incarceration as a solution to social problems.

    Need we say anymore?

     

     

  3. Tia Will

    You just ignore the fact that there is no longer any motive for the criminal to participate.”

    No, this only means that there is no longer the punitive stick of incarceration as a motive for participation. This overlooks several other perspectives. First, there may well be other reasons for wanting to participate that could be leveraged. Also there are some major flaws in the use of the “stick” as a means of attempting to rehabilitate.

    1. Our prisons offer minimal by way of rehabilitation.

    2. Prison is a very expensive and completely ineffective way to try to get someone off drugs since drugs are ubiquitous in our prisons. If you doubt this just ask rdc how hard it is to score in prison.

    3. Incarcerating people for felonies has negative implications for the ability to reintegrate successfully into society since many felons will not find themselves employable even if they would never disobey the law again.

    4. Long incarcerations do not deter other criminals. While they do prevent the person who is incarcerated from repeating their crime outside of prison, they are an extremely expensive way of achieving this goal. Older individuals are much less likely to commit most crimes than are younger individuals. Having someone kept at house arrest with an ankle bracelet would be a much more cost effective means of control and would allow them to maintain their family ties and fulfill obligations while still having their behavior monitored while “running out the clock” on their highest risk time for criminal activity.

    1. zaqzaq

      Tia,

      If thieves are incarcerated they will not be breaking into my home or car and stealing my property.  The employability of a felon on probation and a felon sentenced to prison is a distinction without a difference.  I wonder how many AB 109 and Prop 47 inmates on house arrest commit new crimes while serving their prison sentence.

      1. Tia Will

        zaqzaq

        If thieves are incarcerated they will not be breaking into my home or car and stealing my property”

        This is certainly true and I have acknowledged it. What you are not choosing to acknowledge is the enormous cost to us in terms of taxes needed to keep these individuals incarcerated. True, paying taxes does not have the same emotional impact as coming home and finding possessions gone,  but in the long run we are doing ourselves no financial or social favors by locking up the non violent offender. Unfortunately locking up the “thief” by removing him from the community where he has at least the possibility of learning new skills, finding gainful employment and perhaps building a better life, in many cases we will have robbed him of those possibilities which are not available in prison and consigned him to a life of crime and incarceration ( both of which will pay for ) which he might have otherwise avoided.

         

        1. zaqzaq

          Tia,

          Prop 47 only saved the state $29,000,000 in the first year.  Based on the Rand Formula Pete mentions the economic loss to citizens is clearly greater.

          Pugilist, Pugilist, … ?  Crickets

        2. The Pugilist

          Crickets since I’ve been away from the computer.  How dare I.  Not exactly clear what you want me to respond to.  In my view, I agree with the Vanguard here, temporary blips in the crime rate are indicative of potentially a settling out period.  I think there is more that we can do to adjust to a different approach, but I don’t think those in control of the system are interesting in looking into those approaches.  However, Prop 47 is not easily overturned, so hopefully the hard-headedness with reside.

    2. Pete

      “Having someone kept at house arrest with an ankle bracelet would be a much more cost effective means of control and would allow them to maintain their family ties and fulfill obligations while still having their behavior monitored while “running out the clock” on their highest risk time for criminal activity.”

      Wow, that’s precious.  Are you suggesting we keep all young people on ankle braclets until they are “run out the clock” on their highest risk time for criminal activity?  BTW, what do you suggest would be the next step if they commit a crime while on “ankle bracelet monitoring and “house arrest?”  Surely not jail time….

      You did hit the nail on the head when you acknowledged that incarceration may not deter others, but most certainly does stop the person incarcerated from committing crimes on citizens while incarcerated.  You should have stopped there, because your your next statement regarding it being expensive is both 1) wrong, and 2) even if true, “so what”  Let me explain.

      There is a cost to crime that “reform” advocates never acknowledge.  The Rand Corporation developed a well respected cost of crime calculator five years ago, which allows one to simply plug in the crime stats for one of the FBI Uniform Crime rate measures (murder, rape, robbery, assault, larceny, burglary, auto theft) and see what the cost is–for example, what is the cost of five murder vs six, 1,000 burglaries vs 1,500, etc.

      The cost of the crime rate increase in California, as I mentioned below, dwarfs any savings.  For example, for Sacramento and Roseville  the cost of the increase in the property crime rate comparing the first six months of 2014 to the first six months of 2015 was $5.3 million.  Add in the 113 more robberies (to keep it property crime related) and you have another $8.6 million in increased crime costs.  Keep in mind, these are just the first six months.

      What the Prop 47 proponents should keep in mind is the end of the last Governor Brown administration.  The “rehab” model was in vogue–that is, until the crime rate soared and victims increased.  Rose Bird and two other justices were kicked off the Supreme Court, indeterminate sentencing was scrapped, and the public was tired of being victimized and more than willing to pay for incarceration.  Why–while for the precise reason you outlined above, Ms. Will—as long as the criminals are locked up they aren’t out victimizing innocent citizens.

      The bottom line is that arguing that Prop 47 isn’t leading to an increased crime rate is, as the old saying goes, like “peeing on my shoes and telling me it is raining.”  At some point, as vicitms continue to mount and as people realize that making crime consequence free encourages more crime, the end will come for Prop 47.  So, enjoy your experiment on the California public while you can.

      1. David Greenwald

        There is also the point made in the article that crime ticked up after AB 109 was first implemented and then plunged downward. I am reluctant to draw definitive conclusion after a year data with a non-fully implemented program. And Prop 47 isn’t likely to go away any time soon, so figuring out ways to make it work should be the priority.

  4. Pete

    So an advocate of Prop 47 proposes  that the measurement for whether Prop 47 has led to higher crime rates is to look at  “changes in: (a) county jail populations and (b) Proposition 47-related discharges and releases from prison to resentencing counties.”  Really?

     What Mr. Males ignores is that the crime rate is increasing across California because Prop 47 assures there is no punishment for many property crimes.  It has nothing with jail populations or releases from prison.

    Here are the facts from the FBI preliminary crime statistics which compared the crime rates from the entire United States, for the first six months of 2014 to the six months of 2015, for every city with a population of 100,000 or more.

    For property crime, California had five of the top 10 spots, with San Francisco being #1, Long Beach #2, LA #3, Sacramento #5 and San Jose #6.  44 California cities in all were in the top 100 nationwide for an increase in property crime rates; in all 48 of the 66 California cities reporting saw increases in property crime rates, with 24 cities in double digits.

    Here’s the contrast:  the four other states with the highest populations (Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois) all saw DECREASES in property crime rates per 100,000 residents.  Is California in the midst of a “one state flucuation” in crime stats?  Or, since the one thing California doesn’t have in common with the next four biggest states—that is, Prop 47—- could that be the source of California’s increased crime rate, Mr. Males?

    Oh, and using the Rand “cost of crime” calculator”, one finds the cost of this increased crime rate dwarfs the claimed “savings” from Prop 47.

    It’s really not too hard to draw a realistic preliminary conclusion about what is driving the increased property crime rate–that is, unless one has either has a vested interest in Prop 47 as a proponent of same, or has a strong view in favor of eliminating incarceration as a punishment for crime.

     

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