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Jails, Prisons Less Crowded A Year After Prop. 47

Evening Edition host Peggy Pico speaks with Bill Lansdowne, former San Diego police chief, and David Greenberg, chief deputy district attorney of San Diego County, about a recent study that finds prisons and jails in the state to be less crowded a year after Proposition 47.

Jails, Prisons Less Crowded A Year After Prop. 47


Milena Blake, staff attorney, Stanford Law School's Justice Advocacy Project

Bill Lansdowne, former San Diego police chief

David Greenberg, chief deputy district attorney, San Diego County


A year after California voters approved a measure to make some nonviolent crimes misdemeanors, a study released Thursday finds prisons and jails in the state are less crowded.

Proposition 47 went into effect the day after the Nov. 4 election. It turned such crimes as drug possession and petty theft from felonies to misdemeanors.

The study by Stanford Law's Justice Advocacy Project finds 4,454 state prisoners have been released under the new law, and it will keep an estimated 3,300 offenders out of prison every year, saving the state $93.4 million a year. Counties could save an estimated $203 million.

“The biggest takeaway is approximately 13,000 people have been released from state prisons and county jails,” Milena Blake, staff attorney for the Stanford Law School's Justice Advocacy Project, told KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday. “That results in pretty significant savings.”

Before Proposition 47, county jails would release inmates before they fulfilled their sentences in order to create more space, said Blake, who co-authored the report.

“Because of the excess room in county jails, people are now able to serve their full sentence,” said Blake, who noted the recidivism rate is about 5 percent statewide.

Former San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne, who backed Proposition 47, said lower inmate populations mean more money for other services.

“We’re the country that incarcerates more people than anyone in the world,” Lansdowne said. “We need to change that. Not everybody needs to go to jail.”

The state's notoriously crowded prisons are actually below the level ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court in Plata v. Brown.

But critics says Proposition 47 is a get-out-of-jail-free card for repeat offenders, resulting in higher crime rates around the state.

David Greenberg, San Diego County chief deputy district attorney, who opposed the measure, said that many of the inmates released were in Los Angeles. That region’s crime rate has now risen.

Greenberg also said the authors of the report supported Proposition 47.

“This group that did the research helped write the initiative, and they actually litigate on behalf of inmates seeking Proposition 47 relief,” Greenberg said.

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