A Stanford Law School study found that within three months of the passage of Proposition 47, the combined population of all county jails in California dropped by nearly 9,000 prisoners due to the resentencing of inmates and fewer new felony admissions. (Courtesy Stanford Justice Advocacy Project)

Report: Inmates released under Prop. 47 not causing crime spike

Law enforcement across the state for the past year has blamed rising crime on Proposition 47, which reduced certain property crimes and drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.

The San Francisco Police Department is no exception. In the July edition of the police union’s journal, Chief Greg Suhr pointed toward Prop. 47 as much of the reason for The City’s recent jump in property crimes — “auto and home burglaries in particular.”

But a Stanford Law School study on Prop. 47 reports that prisoners released under the measure are not to blame for increases in crime.

District Attorney George Gascon, who co-authored the measure, said Thursday that fewer than 20 inmates have been released under Prop. 47 for offenses committed in San Francisco.

Prop. 47 allows judges to reduce the punishments for select inmates serving time for felony crimes now considered misdemeanors, provided they pose no risk to public safety — including simple drug possession and nonviolent thefts under $950.

Auto burglary, at the center of many Prop. 47 critics’ arguments, has not been reduced to a misdemeanor.

The District Attorney’s Office has yet to determine if any of the 18 inmates released — 14 from County Jail and four from state prison — have been convicted of new crimes, but Gascon calls the release “quite minimal.”

In the Proposition 47 Progress Report, written by Mike Romano, who co-authored Prop. 47 with Gascon, Stanford Law School found that just 159 of the 4,454 state prisoners released under the measure have been reincarnated for new crimes.

“It is hard to imagine that the approximately 4,500 people that have been released since the beginning of Prop. 47 are causing a new crime wave,” said Gascon. “It just defies logic.”

But the report and Gascon admit the entire effects of Prop. 47 on the state’s crime rates remain to be seen.

Since it’s been only a year since the measure’s enactment, the court process has not had enough time to run its course, according to some in law enforcement. Trials for serious crimes can take upwards of a year to complete.

“Proposition 47 on crime rates is very difficult to figure out in the course of a year,” said Romano. But “of the folks who have been released under Proposition 47 over the past year, very few have been returned to prison.”

Gascon said crime trends are always shifting. “We’re seeing other parts of the country where crime is going up, and they’re certainly not impacted by Prop. 47.”

The Stanford report also found that the state is slated to save more than $150 million in prison spending this year, which will be put toward mental health services next summer. For counties, that number looks to be over $200 million per year.

Prop. 47 not only had a swift and dramatic effect on overcrowding in prison and jail populations other than San Francisco’s. The Department of Corrections estimates 3,300 fewer prisoners will be incarcerated per year, according to the study.

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