Crime has gone down faster in states that have reduced their prison populations, says the New York Times. An editorial says an encouraging example comes from California, which the newspaper calls “the site of some the worst excesses of the mass incarceration era, but also some of the more innovative responses to it.” Two years ago, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to scale back the state's “three-strikes” law, leading to the release so far, of more than 1,900 prisoners who had been serving life in prison, in some cases, for petty theft.
Warnings that crime would rise as a result were unfounded. Over two years, the recidivism rate of former three-strikes inmates is 3.4 percent, less than one-tenth of the state's average. That's partly due to a strong network of re-entry services. Next week, the state’s voters will consider Proposition 47, which would covert many low-level drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. That would cut an average of about a year off the sentences of up to 10,000 inmates, potentially saving the state hundreds of millions of dollars annually. The Times says that, “California's continuing experiment on sentencing can be a valuable lesson to states … looking for smart and safe ways to unravel America's four-decade incarceration binge.”