California's 4-year-old program to reduce the state prison population by sending low-level felons to county jails hasn't increased crime, except for auto thefts, but hasn't yet achieved intended savings in incarceration costs, says a new study reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. Since the legislature approved Gov. Jerry Brown’s realignment plan in 2011, the number of inmates has declined by 40,000 in state prisons system and 18,000 overall, even including those who are now in local jails, said the Public Policy Institute of California. Part of that decline was due to voter initiatives exempting some nonviolent felons from life terms under the state's three-strikes law and reducing sentences for some drug and property crimes. Despite predictions by law enforcement groups that realignment would endanger the public, rates of violent crime and property crime have fallen since 2011 and are at “historic lows.” The report did not cite realignment or any other factor as the cause of the decline, which has occurred in other states.
The findings that crime is down even though 18,000 ex-convicts are on the streets rather than behind bars suggests that locking up more people is not a cost-effective way to fight crime, the report said. “An additional dollar spent on incarceration generates only 23 cents in crime savings,” the institute said. “The state would benefit from alternative crime-prevention strategies,” ranging from added policing to more early-childhood education and “targeted intervention” programs for high-risk youth. The projected cost savings from realignment, however, have not materialized. California's 2015-16 budget for state prisons and related programs is $10.07 billion, compared with $9.65 billion in 2010-11, when the state prison population was 40,000 higher.