Three relatively young California laws have worked somewhat effectively to lower the state prison population, but they have also made crime rise.
AB 109 (Realignment) shifted the burden of dealing with nonviolent, nonsexual, nonserious crimes from state to county jurisdiction. Proposition 47 redefined many crimes downward from felonies to misdemeanors thus passing them from state to county jurisdiction and among other things restructured the way probation was to be handled. Proposition 57 made a series of other changes that collectively resulted in many early releases of criminals who otherwise would have remained incarcerated.
Kern County, as were all the other 57 California counties, was deleteriously affected and has been struggling ever since with rising law enforcement, incarceration, and crime burdens. Sociologists and criminology scholars, always hungering for more statistical data, and always loathe to making conclusive statements and releasing conclusionary reports, have remained opinion-wise safely above the fray, and the damage.
Should it be a surprise that fewer felons behind bars should correlate directly and positively with rises in crime rates? The rest of us can see the dots and common-sensically connect them.
I know, I know, I’ve given the lecture no fewer than a thousand times in my psychology classes over more than 20 years in the college classroom that correlation does not impute causation. But c’mon, let’s get real about what’s going on.
We don’t have the luxury of having every last bit of sociological or criminological data before we have to do something about rising crime. There never will be a time when all the data’s in. That’s the nature of the beast. There’s always more. And more. And more. So waiting for that time to arrive serves no useful purpose, accomplishes nothing, and pushes the time for action into future infinity.
Fortunately, the century-old League of California Cities (over 400 participating cities), citing rises in their crime rates, recently submitted a unanimous petition to Sacramento asking the legislature to rethink AB 109, Prop. 47 and Prop. 57. It’s about time. Lightening has struck.
While working as a California prison psychologist (26 years' worth) I had to chuckle, though it wasn’t funny, how much money was wasted, at the failed programs prison scholars and experts had spun into existence. From around the country experts descended on Sacramento, spent lavishly, exchanged experiences and ideas, created programs, then went home.
Immediately their bold newly minted programs began falling apart. Correctional counselors and parole agents were seen banging their heads against the walls. The only lasting benefit came through the practical efforts of Clark Kelso, et al, ensconced outside the kingdom of CDCR driving CDCR to do things unfamiliar, but of enduring benefit. His efforts showed that more salutary programs could be crafted if you stayed away from prison experts. But Mr. Kelso’s focus was primarily on the medical side of the house.
Sadly, not much constructive change has occurred elsewhere in the prison or the crime domains. We can't trust changes in future recidivism rates because they're based on redefinitions of crime. Actually, if you deep-dive into recidivism, you’ll find that any recidivist reductions claimed are far less than they should have been given how much redefinition — top to bottom — has occurred since realignment, et al, were enacted.
Upshot? Actual recidivism is probably worse than before, which is supported by the fact of rising crime rates in more than 400 California cities.
Over 400 mayors and city administrators of over 400 cities signing a petition in unanimity about rising crime.
You think it’s about time to rethink those three laws?
Dr. Brik McDill of Bakersfield is a retired psychologist.