When California decided to release thousands of nonviolent prisoners, not only did the state save millions of dollars on incarceration, but crime rates didn't rise, according to a new study.
California's Public Safety Realignment Act of 2011 sought to give thousands of nonviolent prisoners early release in an attempt to reduce prison overcrowding and save tax dollars on mass incarceration. The program was maligned by critics, who believed it would lead to an increase in crime and, despite its name, reduce public safety, according to Business Insider.
"This is dangerous public policy. Without strong state prison accountability, it's hard to control crime," Glendale Police Chief Ronald De Pompa said in 2013. This came after complaints from police that they were arresting many of the people who had been given early release, according to the Pasadena Star.
Although there might have been stories of early released prisoners getting in trouble soon after getting out of prison, these anecdotes proved to be outliers, according to “Is Downsizing Prisons Dangerous?” by criminology professors Jody Sundt, Emily J. Salisbury and Mark G. Harmon
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Within just 15 months of its passage, "Realignment reduced the size of the total prison population by 27,527 inmates, prison crowding declined from 181 [percent] to 150 [percent] of design capacity, approximately $453 million was saved, and there was no adverse effect on the overall safety of Californians," the study states.
Even the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation touted the Realignment Act's effects, according to the study.
After a massive boom in incarceration during the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, California's prison overcrowding rate was at 200 percent, with some facilities surpassing 300 percent of their intended capacity. In 2006, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a prison overcrowding state of emergency.
And in 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California's prison overcrowding problem was cruel and unusual punishment and ordered the state to reduce its prison population to 137 percent of capacity, or by approximately 33,000 inmates, leading to the Realignment Act.
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The results have been positive. At the end of 2014, the California prison population was around 115,088 and its overcrowding rate was 139 percent of design capacity, just slightly above what the Supreme Court ordered.
And despite the massive reduction in incarceration, California’s violent crime rates didn't increase, staying at around 400 crimes per 100,000, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report. And property crimes actually dropped slightly from 2,800 crimes per 100,000 in 2011 and 2012 to about 2,700 crimes in 2013.