A debate is growing on the impact of criminal justice reforms in California. Widely differing views are surfacing on reforms approved by California voters in recent years.
That includes Proposition 47 in 2014, that reduced some crimes from felonies to misdemeanors; Proposition 57, which passed in 2016 and allowed prison officials to decide which nonviolent felonies could be reduced to misdemeanors (under Proposition 47), and a 2018 measure allowed many defendants to be released without bail pending trial.
Opponents of reform argue that California’s new laws are to blame for increases in certain categories of crime or short-term fluctuations in rates of violent crime. The opponents include state police unions, court employees, some district attorneys and politicians. They blame early release initiatives for violent episodes of recidivism, according to the Jan. 21 New York Times.
Ironically, overall crime rates have reached lows not seen since the 1960s, the newspaper reported.
“Proposition 47 has nothing to do with violent crime,” said Charis E. Kubrin of UC Irvine. She is one of the researchers in a study that found no link between Proposition 47 and violent crime.
The study uncovered increases in larceny and auto thefts, but Kubrin and her co- author, Bradley J. Bartos, did not conclude that Proposition 47 was the cause.
The Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorneys criticized the study, adding that Proposition 47 had “arguably failed,” due to increases in crime.
“important to understand that we are in a historic decline… we are safer than almost at any time in history”
Last year, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned of a “staggering increase in homicides.” Violent crime did rise in 2015 and 2016, yet, when FBI figures were released, they showed violent crime had decreased in 2017. This is why some researchers and activists say that criminal justice policies should not rely on annual fluctuations, the newspaper reported.
“Year-to-year fluctuations don’t really tell you much,” said Rob Smith, executive director of the Justice Collaborative. He also told the newspaper that it’s “important to understand that we are in a historic decline…The reality is across California and across the country, we are safer than almost at any time in history.”
In California, law enforcement unions, bail bond companies and other groups are pushing measures to define new crimes as felonies and repeal the state’s recent cash bail reform.