California’s Future: Criminal Justice
California has reversed a decades-long upward trend in its state prison population, which has fallen by about 48,000 inmates (or 28%) from its 2006 peak. The state has also begun moving its criminal justice system away from incarceration. Since California implemented Public Safety Realignment—the first of several recent reforms—in 2011, statewide violent and property crime rates have remained close to historic lows. However, California’s rearrest and reconviction rates— and its corrections budget—remain the highest in the nation. Identifying and implementing cost-effective rehabilitative programming and services for offenders who are incarcerated, as well as those who have returned to their communities, should remain a high priority at the state and county levels.
California must also continue to address concerns about inequities in its criminal justice system. According to the March 2017 PPIC Statewide Survey, only 29 percent of Californians—and 6 percent of African Americans—feel that the system treats whites and nonwhites equally. While racial disparities in arrest rates have lessened since the early 1990s, they remain significant. There are also significant disparities in incarceration. Policymakers have enacted laws that require data collection on arrests, establish statewide standards for police use of force, and replace cash bail with a new pretrial release system. Bail reform is on hold pending the outcome of a November 2020 ballot referendum, and voters may be asked to weigh in on other reforms as well.
This publication is part of a briefing kit that highlights our state’s most pressing long-term policy challenges in 11 key areas: