Transcript: Assemblyman Jeff Gorell’s Q&A with LAO analyst Drew Soderborg on the increase in California’s prison population before the Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment on Oct. 21, 2013

Partial transcript of Assemblyman Jeff Gorell’s (R-Camarillo) Q&A with Drew Soderborg, Managing Principal Analyst, Corrections, Transportation, and Environment, at the Legislative Analyst’s Office, on the contributing factors to the increase and decline in California’s prison population. The hearing before the Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment was held on Oct. 21, 2013:

Assemblyman Jeff Gorell (R-Camarillo):
…Can you describe what the crime rates has been since 1995 with the imposition of the Three Strikes, You’re Out?

…Another big movement for the state in terms of public policy in this area was Prop. 36, which created the drug courts, in which I worked for a number of years. I’m curious – although the drug courts were meant really to prevent people from staying in local prison rather than a state prison incarceration, it must have had some effect on the population that ultimately would get to state prison and also now that the state is pushing more responsibilities to the local level, it is an issue in terms of the population of the local area. So the Three Strikes in 1995 and those impacts and now Prop. 36 in 2000 and those impacts in terms of crime rate and population at the state and local level.

Drew Soderborg, Managing Principal Analyst, Corrections, Transportation, and Environment, at the Legislative Analyst’s Office:
Well, since 1994, the crime rate has decreased by – the overall crime rate has decreased by 48%, with the violent crime rate decreasing 58% and the property crime rate going down by 46%.

It is important to note, however, that crime was declining before the Three Strikes law was passed. For example, property crime hits its peak in 1980 and violent crime hit its peak in 1992 – two years before it passed. And crime decreased across the nation, both in states that had passed Three Strikes-like legislation and in states that didn’t have. Currently, there isn’t any scholarly consensus on the extent to which Three Strikes is responsible for the reduction in crime that followed its passage.

In terms of Proposition 36 of 2000, that definitely did likely contribute to a reduction in prison population. In fact, following 1999, the prison population decreased for a couple of years before beginning to increase again in 2002. One of the difficulties with Prop. 36 is that the funding for the treatment of the drug courts has been reduced significantly in recent years and that really constrains the extent to which courts are able to put people in alternative sentences.

Assemblyman Jeff Gorell (R-Camarillo):
Does the LAO has a position on the success or failure of Prop. 36 of 2000?

Drew Soderborg, Managing Principal Analyst, Corrections, Transportation, and Environment, at the Legislative Analyst’s Office:
I don’t believe our office has taken an official position on the success or failure of Prop. 36.

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