Crime, Inmates, and Prison Costs
In his State of the State Address, Governor Jerry Brown spoke of the growth of the California prison system since he first served as governor (1977-1983) and his current term. Brown praised his recent accomplishment of downsizing the system by reallocating to local jails prisoners who normally would be sentenced to state prison.
It’s important to note that California’s prison system did not grow in a vacuum between the governor’s two terms. Approximately 20 prisons were built in the 1980s and 1990s with funds approved by voters frustrated by the uptick in crime during Governor Brown’s first term.
In 1980, there were 3,405 homicides compared to 1,745 in 2013. Adjusted for population, the homicide rate was more than three times greater (14.4 per 100,000) in 1980 than in 2013 (4.6 per 100,000). Perhaps even more startling, the numbers of rapes (13,661) and burglaries (543,846) were greater than any other year regardless of population. By comparison, in 2013 there were about half as many of those crimes as occurred in 1980–7,459 rapes and 231,909 burglaries.
While the prison buildup of the 1980s and 1990s was expensive, it also resulted in a significant drop in crime. Conversely, the recent downsizing of the state’s prison system is also expensive and many communities are now experiencing an increase in crime because county jails, overwhelmed with more violent offenders, are struggling to provide the necessary supervision of criminals.
Realignment has saved the state nothing in state dollars spent on corrections. On October 1, 2011, when realignment took effect, the state was spending a combined $9,580,024 in state funds allocated to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and local jails. In 2014, $11,183,825 in state funds was allocated to CDCR and local jails–far from the $2 billion savings from prison realignment the governor projected when the program was enacted.