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:
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.
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.
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