Researchers have found “robust evidence” suggesting that property crime in California increased because thousands of prisoners who had been locked in state prisons transferred to the laxer custody of county officials in a process known as realignment.
Looking at statewide crime data from the California Department of Justice, the Public Policy Institute of California says property crimes were 7 to 12 percent higher in 2012 because an estimated 18,000 convicted criminals who would have otherwise been behind bars were free.
With a 14.8 percent increase between 2011 and 2012, motor vehicle thefts saw the biggest spike.
In order to abide by a federal mandate to ease overcrowding in the state prison system, the state Legislature passed a law in 2011 that sent more parolees and non-violent criminals to county custody. Known as realignment, the legislation has reduced the state’s incarceration by 9 percent.
The study found that realignment has had no effect on violent crime rates.
The rise in property crime did not hit all parts of the state equally. Alameda County had an increase of 17.1 percent in property crime during the time studied in the report. Contra Costa had an increase of 10 percent in the same period.
In Walnut Creek, the effect seems to be minimal. The city saw only a slight increase in property crimes from 2011 to 2012
The number of property crimes in the city the past decade has also decreased.
The first wave of prisoners transferred during realignment were usually guilty of non-violent and non-sexual crimes. But 8,000 inmates above the 110,000 limit mandated by federal order remain in California prisons.
The report concludes that if these more serious criminals allowed to go free, the rise in property crime would be even larger.
Read about realignment here.