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California Law Blamed For Crime Rise

Publication Date: 
January 05, 2013
The Wall Street Journal
Vauhini Vara

Professor Joan Petersilia spoke with the Wall Street Journal's Vauhini Vara about the rise in California's property crime and whether it has any correlation to the state's 2011 sentencing overhaul. 

Property crime has been rising in California, and some law-enforcement officials blame the state's October 2011 sentencing overhaul that has kept thousands of low-level criminals out of prison.

California saw a year-over-year increase of 4.5% in property crime in the fourth quarter of 2011, immediately after the overhaul, marking the first rise since 2004, according to a report from the state attorney general this fall. In contrast, property crime, which includes burglary, auto theft and larceny, fell 2.4% in the nine months before the sentencing changes stemming from a U.S. Supreme Court decision.


Joan Petersilia, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, a nonpartisan think tank at Stanford University, said it would be difficult to prove a link with higher property crime so soon after the overhaul. But the police chiefs "may well turn out to be right," she added.

Ms. Petersilia and other scholars and law-enforcement officials also say there could be other reasons for any crime increase, such as police staffing shortages or economic woes. They also say incarceration can be worse at deterring some low-level crimes than methods like electronic monitoring paired with drug and mental-health treatment.