A recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California concludes that the state’s 2011 public safety realignment program, which diverts certain low-level offenders from the state prison system to local county jails, has produced both positive and negative results. The study points out some significant impacts for persons convicted of non-violent crimes. In areas like Ventura and Oxnard, where the crime rates are comparatively high, local officials agree with the report’s conclusions. Here are four things to know about how the public safety realignment program has affected those convicted of certain crimes in Ventura County.
County jail sentences are shorter than state prison sentences
One outcome of the realignment program for those convicted of non-violent offenses is that they typically spend less time in the county jail than they would if they had been incarcerated in a state prison. The study found that county inmates typically serve about half of their sentences. Prior to realignment, typically a Ventura County inmate would serve about 70% of his or her sentence. Part of the reduction in time served comes in response to changes in the jail population over time. When offenders must be released, typically officials prefer to release non-violent offenders and those thought least likely to commit repeat offenses.
Property crimes are on the rise
For those convicted of low-level offenses, one of the consequences of shorter jail sentences is that newly released inmates have contributed to a noticeable increase in property crimes. According to the study, currently about 27,000 persons who would likely have still been in prison under the old system are now on the streets. Overall, auto thefts account for the majority of the additional property crimes, although other property crimes have also shown an increase. The study concluded that approximately 1.2 additional auto thefts per offender have been committed since the realignment took effect. Comparatively, the study found that property crimes in general increased by between 1 and 1.5 crimes per released offender. The study authors attributed the increase in crimes to the number of offenders on the streets who would still have been incarcerated in a state prison under the former program.
Released offenders aren’t committing violent crimes
According to the study, violent crimes in California have risen since the realignment, but the increase closely mirrors an increase in violent crimes nationwide. Therefore, the study authors conclude, the increase in violent crimes in California is part of a national trend, and cannot be attributed to the state’s public safety realignment. Additionally, the evidence suggests that low-level offenders who have been released as part of the realignment are not responsible for the increase in violent crimes. Those who have been re-arrested in general are re-arrested for non-violent offenses.
Property crime rates are still lower than they were a decade ago
History provides another positive outcome from the study. Even though property crimes in California have risen since the public safety realignment, overall the rate of property crimes is 20% lower today than it was ten years ago.
In general, the public safety realignment benefits low-level offenders who can be successfully diverted away from the state prison system and into county jails. From the perspective of a person convicted of a lower-level offense, the possibility of successfully completing a shorter sentence in a county jail facility instead of a state prison, or potentially receiving an alternative sentence that does not include jail time at all is attractive. On the other hand, convicted offenders who repeat even low-level crimes may run the risk of being sentenced more harshly after additional convictions.
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