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California’s Future: Corrections


California has reversed a decades-long trend of explosive growth in the state prison population that led to severe over­crowding. The population has dropped dramatically since the state enacted public safety realignment in 2011, after the US Supreme Court upheld a federal mandate to ease prison overcrowding. Realignment shifted responsibility for many non-serious, non-violent, and non-sexual offenders to county jail and probation systems. The reform cut the prison population by about 27,400 in its first year, while increasing the jail population. Two voter initiatives further trimmed the prison population and/or eased jail crowding: Proposition 36 (2012) revised California’s three-strikes law and Proposition 47 (2014) reclassified some drug and property felonies as misdemeanors. Altogether, these reforms have reduced the prison population by about 42,300 inmates (or 24%) from its peak in 2006 and significantly lessened the state’s overall reliance on incarceration.

Statewide violent and property crime rates are roughly where they were when California began implementing these reforms. However, corrections spending remains high, as do rearrest and reconviction rates. Ongoing equity issues need attention. And, as county jail systems continue to adjust to their new responsibilities, identifying and implementing cost-effective programming and services should be a high priority.

This publication is part of a briefing kit that highlights our state’s most pressing long-term policy challenges in 11 key areas:

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the PPIC Corporate Circle and the PPIC Donor Circle.

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