Are Criminal Justice Reforms Making Us Safe?
The answer is yes, according to a Los Angeles Times OpEd by former Los Angeles District Attorneys Ira Reiner and Gil Garcetti and former federal prosecutor Miriam Aroni Krinsky. Their piece “Stop obstructing criminal justice reforms. It’s making us less safe,” cites evidence-based polices like the ones progressive LA District Attorney Gascon “is implementing in Los Angeles hold people accountable without relying on extreme sentences, and they save taxpayer dollars that could be invested in things that actually have an impact on crime, such as public health, housing, education and violence prevention.” The trio point to the 1980s and 90s when, “California embarked on a disastrous social experiment…….that ratcheted up punishment in criminal cases. The negative impact of these policies overwhelming fell on poor, Black and brown communities.” Let’s take a look at that negative impact.
A little context: In 1965, at the behest of liberal politicians, distinguished criminologists and behavioral scientists, California Governor Pat Brown signed the SB 822, “The Probation Subsidy Act,” into law. Under the Act, the state paid counties $4,000, the equivalent of over $34,000 in today’s dollars, to keep “mostly harmless” property felons such as car thieves and burglars in local jails or rehabilitation programs instead of sending them to overcrowded state prisons. At the time, and for the next several years, the prevailing wisdom advanced by criminologists and social scientists was that “obviously harmless” offenders could be left in the community and successfully treated with little or no threat to public safety. As a means for reducing the number of criminals going to prison, the Act was a success. The state’s inmate population between 1965 and 1978 dropped from a high of 28,482 (1966) to a low of 21,325 (1978). But the crime rate rose dramatically, including violent crime. In the five years preceding the implementation of probation subsidy (1960-1965), violent crime rose by 18% or roughly 3.6% per year. In the five years after its implementation (1966-1970), violent crime had increased by 68% or 13.6% per year. By 1980, violent crime had risen by 216% and the homicide rate had increased by 300%. The end result of keeping “low risk” criminals out of prison was a savings to the state in corrections costs, which was offset by the cost burden to local governments for the arrest and prosecution of thousands of offenders, many of which had evolved into violent criminals during this experiment. The state budget avoided the direct costs of the trauma and death caused by this crime wave, but the public paid the full price.
Beginning in 1980, and continuing over the next three decades, several changes in criminal justice policy contributed to what social scientists have characterized as the “get tough” movement. Over this period, the public largely abandoned the theory that reliable risk assessments could be made about criminals from factors other than the seriousness of the crime and an offender’s criminal history. Several ballot measures were adopted by voters to remove impediments to the arrest and prosecution of criminals and adjust the consequences to fit the crime. The last major reform was California’s 1994 adoption of the Three Strikes and You’re Out initiative, which increased the sentences for repeat serious and violent offenders. Between 1992, two years before Three Strikes was adopted, and 2014 violent crime in California dropped by two thirds, while homicide dropped by more than half. While more repeat felons were going to prison, tens of thousands of Californians were spared from becoming victims of violent crime and murder, particularly urban blacks and Hispanics who are disproportionately victimized by crime. The so-called “disastrous social experiment” was arguably the most successful domestic policy effort in California history.
Reiner, Garcetti and Krinsky tell us that “despite fear mongering claims, there is no evidence that the recent increase in certain serious crimes–and particular homicide is associated with criminal justice reforms. (The increases occurred in places where the reforms were embraced and where they were not.)
Two problems with this assertion. First, the most dramatic progressive “reforms” have been implemented statewide, starting with the so-called Public Safety Realignment law (AB109) in 2011, which essentially reinstated the Probation Subsidy Act of 46 years earlier. Realignment allowed the release of 30,000 repeat felons from state prison, prohibited prison sentences for most criminals, including car thieves, burglars, drug dealers, and wife beaters, and reduced state supervision of the criminals it released. The year after it became law violent crime in California increased for the first time in all but one of the previous fifteen years, by 12%. It has continued to increase in seven of the past ten years as the state enacted Proposition 47, a 2014 Soros/ACLU financed ballot measure that turned most felonies into misdemeanors with essentially no consequences for offenders, and Proposition 57, the 2016 Soros/Brown bankrolled initiative that dramatically reduced the sentences for serious and violent criminals and authorized the early release of thousands of inmates including rapists and murderers. Last year Los Angeles had the most murders in a decade and this year after ten months of Gascon’s reforms, homicides are up 95% and the county is awash with criminals stealing cars, assaulting strangers on busy streets, beaches and parks in broad daylight and rampaging through department stores stealing everything in sight with impunity. Last year Oakland’s murder rate rose by 129%, and in Chesa Boudin’s San Francisco there were double the shootings from 2019.
Contrast this with cities who have voted to keep those awful “tough on crime” district attorneys like San Diego, where homicides increased by only 1.7% last year, or Sacramento which saw a 26% increase in homicides….not good but far less than Los Angeles, Oakland or San Francisco.
Finally, while the Times OpEd touts savings in tax dollars from progressive policies that keep criminals on the streets, the California corrections budget has increased every year since the adoption of Realignment, along with the cost of local jails and police departments.
Nothing that these three soft-on-crime former law enforcement officials assert in their Times OpEd stands up to scrutiny. Its pure propaganda. The Los Angeles Times might consider hiring a 9-year-old with a computer to check out the facts before publishing this hogwash.
It should be noted that one of them, Miriam Aroni Krinsky, heads of the Soros-funded group “Fair and Just Prosecution,” a San Francisco-based advocate for reducing the consequences for criminals and promoting District Attorneys whose campaigns are financed by Soros.