More than a dozen states are considering prison reform measures to drastically reduce their inmate populations to save money. But law enforcement in California are blaming their reforms for a recent uptick in crime.
"The most recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice show violent crime rates in some California cities has increased by over 50 percent," said Michele Hanisee, president of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys. "If you look at the national data, our violent crime rates are going up faster than the rest of the nation. So why?"
Prosecutors and police have an explanation -- a series of prison reform measures, which reduce the state prison population by 20,000 inmates by releasing non-violent offenders early and making some felonies misdemeanors. One law, Assembly Bill 109, transferred 60,000 felony parole violators a year from state prison to county control. The measure saved California $100 million but some argue it was not without casualties.
"You're passing these propositions, you're creating these laws that are raising crime,” complained Whittier Police Chief Jeff Piper following the fatal shooting of a member of his force. "It's not good for our community and it's not good for our officers."
Piper believes AB 109 contributed to the February 20 death of Whittier police officer Keith Boyer. The shooting suspect is convicted felon Michael Mejia, who court records show cycled in and out of prison several times between 2010 and 2016 for various charges including robbery and grand theft auto. After his release from Pelican Bay State Prison in April 2016, he violated parole four times.
Under the old law, he would have returned to prison but under AB 109, he received a ten-day "flash incarceration" in county jail. Just days later, he allegedly killed Boyer and his own cousin and injured another officer.
"Ten days in jail, which for a hardened criminal is a slap on the wrist, has no effect,” said Hanisee.
Voters also passed Proposition 47 in 2014, which converted many nonviolent offenses, such as drug and property crimes, from felonies to misdemeanors. It affected future convictions and reduced California’s existing prison population by 13,000, which saves the state $150 million a year, according to a Stanford University study.