Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Has Prop 47 Led to Increased Crime Rates? (Hint: No)

Since the enactment of Proposition 47, which reclassified numerous California felonies as misdemeanors and led to a relief in jail population, cops near and far have been bemoaning a subsequent rise in crime rates. But that a police officer tells a journalist something doesn't mean that it is necessarily true, or that the correlation holds. Which raises the question: Have crime rates increased? If so, is the increase correlated with Prop 47? If it is, may we assume causality?

In general, whenever a question like this pops up, there are two places to check first: the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) and the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ). PPIC, notably, studied crime rates after Realignment, with Steven Raphael and Magnus Lofstrom concluding that the only category in which there was a subsequent correlated increase was, oddly, auto theft - by 14.8 percent. But other crime categories, including violent crime, were not affected by Realignment. With regard to Prop. 47, Lofstrom advises caution:

Upticks in violent and property crime rates during the first year of realignment caused similar concerns, Lofstrom said. With the exception of a boost in auto thefts, however, the spike was in line with increases in states that did not undergo realignment, and crime rates have since dropped again.
With a surge of releases under Proposition 47, “it’s fair to say it puts an upward pressure on crime rates” for the types of low-level offenses those inmates committed, he added. But he said it’s very difficult to attribute a particular change in law to a change in crime rates. Cities and counties vary in their staffing levels, law enforcement priorities and reentry services for released offenders.
There is, however, an early effort to figure out what is going on, and it is a new report by CJCJ. A mere observation of crime rates in January-June suggests a rise in several crime categories, though the numbers for other years appear too inconsistent to draw any pattern.

But the question is, if there is an increase, is it related to Prop. 47? The report reads:
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 ADP 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.
The report concludes that "[t]here are no obvious effects associated with Proposition 47 that would be expected if the reform had a significant and consistent impact on crime," and that "[i]t is too early to conclusively measure the effects of Proposition 47 on crime rates just one year after the law took effect." Indeed, early 2016 data from Davis and West Sacramento shows a decline in crime rates.

The real source of concern, then, has to do not with compromising public safety, but with the savings that were supposed to be cycled back into local communities for reentry purposes. One of my initial worries about Prop. 47 was that the funds, which were to be allocated by the Board of State and Community Corrections, would trail a year behind the early releases, effectively having people reenter into nothing. It seems that these concerns are warranted, and that supporters are petitioning Governor Brown to increase the fund allocation for reentry programs. 

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