The significant increase in more Californians being jailed since the mid-1970s did little for public safety, according to a new report.
“Our dramatic increase in prison and jail for nonviolent offenders has had little discern with positive impact on public safety,” the report finds.
More than 1,000 laws were enacted since the mid-1970s, which escalated the number of people going to prison and fewer being released—resulting in overcrowded prisons, the report states.
The growing population forced California to expand its prisons designed capacity to 83,219 and its jails to 76,000.
The expansion of the prison system’s capacity, the rapid growth in incarceration rates and lengthening of terms – as well as people held in jail pending trial – contributed to the overcrowded conditions and prompted multiple lawsuits, according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice report, Local Reform in a Realigned Environment: Data Driven Strategies to Enhance Public Safety (www.cjcj.org).
Longer sentencing laws have caused California’s state prisoner population to balloon from 19,000 in the 1970s to 93,000 in 1990, the report added. In the same period, the county jail population increased almost threefold, from 25,000 to 70,000.
Furthermore, the report asserts idleness, poor conditions and the affects of incarcerating offenders with minor offenses with hardened criminals, along with inadequate reentry management and support, “has the unintended consequence of increasing recidivism upon return to society.”
In 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled California’s prisons were so overcrowded that they constituted “cruel and unusual punishment,” and capped the prison population at 110,000.
In response to the ruling, the state Legislature passed a law, called realignment, designed to meet the cap by June 27, 2013. However, the deadline has since been extended to Dec. 27.
An examination of CDCR records show that since July 2012, the population has been hovering around 119,000 – 9,000 more than the cap.
“This shift in responsibility for lower-level offenders to California’s 58 counties, has presented significant challenges and necessitated a reconsideration of established sentencing practices and the development of a broader array of community sanctions,” the report concludes.