The number of Americans jailed or on probation fell 21% from its peak in 2007, federal statistics show.
The figures show between 2017 and 2018 slightly more than 6.4 million people were under correctional control (2.1 million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails, in addition to 4.3 million people on probation or parole supervision). In 2007, 7.4 million people were under correctional control.
- From 2008 to 2018, people in prison or jail fell 17%
- The incarceration rate for adults in prison or jail declined every year since 2008, with 2018 being the lowest since 1996
- The percentage of adults on probation or parole was lower in 2018 than any time since 1992.
In 2018, 500,000 Californians were under correctional control with 200,000 people in state prisons or county jails.
Violent and property crime (reported to law enforcement) has steadily decreased and is currently at its lowest levels since 1969 when the state began keeping statewide crime statistics, reports Mike Males, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.
The historically low crime rates remained in spite of the state enacting significant criminal justice reform measures that resulted in the release of thousands of California prisoners from state prisons, other offenders diverted from prison or jail, and others serving lower incarceration periods.
Under PSR, offenders convicted of crimes classified as nonviolent, non-serious or nonsexual served their sentences in county jails instead of state prison.
Males also looked at Proposition 47, passed in 2014, which changed felony drug possession and theft of $900 or less to misdemeanors.
He also examined Proposition 57, passed in 2016, which changed the California Constitution to allow parole consideration for prisoners classified as nonviolent, gave prison officials the authority to award prisoners greater time reduction credits for good behavior, took away prosecutors’ ability to charge juveniles as adults, and gave the charging authority to Superior Court judges.
Meanwhile, Everyday Injustice, an online newsletter, reports that since the reform measures began and continue to be in effect, 30 percent of California counties showed an increase in crime rates, including Alameda, Contra Costa, Sacramento and Santa Clara; however, 20 percent of counties showed a decline, including Fresno, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties.
“California’s record-low 2019 crime rates cap a period of a substantial change in the criminal justice system,” Males wrote on the website.
Despite initial concerns that reform would erode public safety, most communities were safer in 2019 than at the start of the decade.
The variation that exists across California’s counties and cities indicates that recent crime trends likely reflect local practices and conditions far more than state policies, the report concludes. Rape was excluded from total and violent offense rates because the definition was broadened in 2014, hindering comparisons across this period, Males explained.
The national figures in this article are found in Correctional Populations in the United States, 2017-2018, published August 2020 by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.