Criminal Justice Reform

Is Downsizing Prisons Dangerous?

Jody Sundt
Associate Dean, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis

Key Findings

  • California’s Realignment Act had no effect on aggregate violent or property crime rates in 2012, 2013 or 2014.
  • When crime types were disaggregated, a statistically significant association between Realignment and auto theft rates was observed in 2012. By 2014, this effect had decayed and auto theft rates returned to pre-Realignment levels.
  • Three years after the passage of Realignment, California crime rates remain at levels comparable to what would have been predicted if the prison population had remained at 2010 levels.

Description

Recent declines in imprisonment raise a critical question: Can prison populations be reduced without endangering the public? This question is examined by testing the effect of California’s dramatic efforts to comply with court-mandated targets to reduce prison overcrowding using a pretest-post test design. The results showed that California’s Realignment Act had no effect on violent or property crime rates in 2012, 2013, or 2014. When crime types were disaggregated, a moderately large, statistically significant association between Realignment and auto theft rates was observed in 2012. By 2014, however, this effect had decayed and auto theft rates returned to pre-Realignment levels.