Prison Realignment Linked To Property Crime Upsurge

From stolen cars to stolen jewelry and electronics, property crimes in California have escalated.

Researchers say that's probably because of the state's controversial prison "realignment" program that began in October 2011.

A leading think tank, the Public Policy Institute of California, predicts that as the state's overcrowded prison population shrinks under federal court orders, property crime rates are likely to keep rising.

A PPIC report issued this week links a 3.4 percent statewide increase in violent crime last year to a "broader upward trend" also seen in other states.

But when it comes to auto theft -- up nearly 15 percent, the highest rate in the West -- researchers tell a different story, and note that overall property crime was up 7.6 percent in 2012.

Now, they point out, 18,000 offenders who otherwise would be behind bars under former statutes are getting more “street time."

Said the PPIC report’s authors Magnus Lofstrom and Steven Raphael: “In particular, our analysis suggest that more crimes, between 3.5 and 7 times as many, would be prevented by spending an additional dollar on policing rather than on prison incarceration.”

Says Cynthia Burke, criminal justice research director for the San Diego Assn. of Governments: “Incarceration is not the hammer that it was before … when you look a individuals who are coming out of prison, parole revocations, they could've gone back a year to prison before. Now they can get a maximum of 180 days, not even considering credit for time served in our local jails. They're out on the street for longer periods of time."

While there are sporadic mass roundups and individual parole and probation checks, estimates are that offenders released under realignment average two to three property crimes a year.

But here in San Diego County, which offers innovative rehabilitation programs, auto theft actually decreased by 1 percent -- year to year -- between January and June, and overall property crimes rose only 4 percent during that period.

Meantime, the local recidivism rate has been cut in half, to 34 percent.

"The highlights are to make sure that those people that are coming out of custody are picked up, taken to their treatment, worked and monitored and held accountable for their behavior,” says San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. “But the programs they are put into have been developed and have what we call 'best practices', or have been proven to get good results."

Law enforcement's top brass are cautiously optimistic about prospects for long-term stability.

"We're getting there,” says San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne. “It's just that we're all struggling with some issues of budget. Struggling with issues of space. There are solutions. But they've got to be solutions that we all work on, and we're all at the same table."

The state is only giving the counties two-thirds of the funding the Department of Corrections used to spend on the inmates involved.

Corrections officials are now looking to expand both in-state and out-of-state lockup space, to meet an April 1 extended federal court deadline.

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