Is Proposition 47 to Blame for California’s 2015 Increase in Urban Crime?

urban crimeNew report shows that no conclusions can be drawn about Prop. 47’s effect on crime at this time.

A new research report examines the effects of Proposition 47 on crime in California. By comparing recently released FBI crime data for California’s 68 largest cities to prison discharges/releases as a result of Prop. 47 and overall county jail population decreases, the report finds it is too early to conclusively determine whether or not Prop. 47 has had an impact on crime.

Prop. 47, passed in November 2014, reduced certain nonviolent, non-serious offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. It was also retroactive, allowing incarcerated people serving felony sentences for certain drug and property offenses to shorten their sentences or to be released outright. Critics of the proposition contended it would increase crime by releasing those convicted of dangerous offenses early, and that reduced sentences would fail to deter people from committing crimes.

According to CJCJ’s report:

  • Between January-June 2014 and January-June 2015, crime in California’s 68 largest cities generally increased, with the exception of a drop in homicide rates and no change in burglary. However, the general increase in urban crime did not correlate with decreases in county jail populations or prison discharges/releases as a result of Prop. 47.
  • California’s 68 largest cities are located in 22 counties. Between March 2014 and March 2015 (latest available data), the populations of county jails decreased by an average of 11 percent. On average, counties with higher than average jail population drops saw a smaller average increase in overall urban crime than counties with less than average jail population decreases.
  • Between November 2014 and December 2015, state prisons released a total of 4,533 people to the counties as a result of Prop. 47. Counties that received higher rates of released people per capita also experienced a smaller average increase in overall crime than counties that received fewer released people.

Mike_MalesThere are no obvious effects associated with Prop. 47 that would be expected if the reform measure had produced a consistent impact on crime, and it is too early to conclusively measure the effects of Proposition 47 on crime rates just one year after the law took effect.

Mike Males
Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Read the full report here: proposition_47_and_urban_crime_2015

About Mike Males

Mike A. Males is a Senior Research Fellow at CJCJ. He has contributed research and co-authored numerous CJCJ publications, including on issues of drug policy, 3-strikes law, criminal justice realignment, and juvenile justice reform.

Dr. Males has a Ph.D. in Social Ecology from U.C. Irvine and over 12 years of experience working in youth programs. He is also content director of Youth Facts (