SACRAMENTO, Calif. —The initiative, Proposition 47, lowered criminal sentences by reducing them. Conviction on a felony charge can bring long prison sentences, while misdemeanors can bring up to only a year in jail.
Recent state Justice Department figures show the number of felony arrests in California plummeted 28.5 percent last year, while misdemeanor arrests grew about 9 percent over 2014. That resulted in 52,000 fewer arrests total and the lowest arrest rate since record -keeping began in 1960.
“It’s driven by changes in property and drug arrests,” said Magnus Lofstrom, a senior fellow in the Public Policy Institute of California.
“I believe it’s quite clear that Prop. 47 is the major contributor to the changes we’ve seen.”
Last year’s decline in arrests, with the fewest felony arrests since 1969, is portion of a long term decline dating to the 1980s that continues to be spurred by what the law states as well as crowded jails and fewer police officers, Mr. Lofstrom said.
It is too soon to say whether the changes are helping spur increasing crime rates, and Mr. Lofstrom and other researchers are watching the relationship closely.
Law enforcement officials said because there could be little punishment when they can be arrested and convicted substance offenders may now normally be cited and released, or dismissed. There were about 22,000 fewer drug arrests last year.
“The de facto decriminalization of substances might have an impact,” said Donny Youngblood, the sheriff of Kern County and the president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association. “We do understand that there’s a lot less arrests being made, which means there are much more people on the roads using drugs.”
Since Proposition 47 passed, in accordance with a survey of 40 of the state’s 58 county superior courts carried out by the Judicial Council of California multiple courts reported an increase in failures to appear for misdemeanor arraignments.
“If people aren’t showing up in court, if they’re not planning to visit drug court, we’re going to see what we’re seeing, which is increased crime rates in our communities,” said Ken Corney, the police chief in the city of Ventura and also the president of the California Police Chiefs Association.
Justice Department figures reveal violent crime soared 10 percent last year over 2014. Property crimes also improved, including nearly 11 percent increase in thefts, two offenses changed by Proposition 47 and a nearly 12 percent increase in shoplifting.
I think it’s been to getting treatment to the individuals who want it the most, a pretty remarkable result,” said Judge Manley, who’s the president of the California Association of Drug Court Professionals.
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Because suspects have less incentive to accept plea deals with no danger of prison time or a felony conviction, the initiative in addition has led to fewer plea bargains, likely, the Judicial Council found. It reported that prosecutors appear to be filing more charges for identity theft, felony drug sales and robbery given that writing bad checks drug possession and check forgery were reduced to misdemeanors.
“Some D.A.’s offices have really tried to charge their way around Prop. 47, no question about it,” said John Abrahams, a chairman of the California Public Defenders Association’s legislative committee.
But Mark Zahner, the chief executive of the California District Attorneys Association, said law enforcement officials may only be targeting more serious criminals.
Lenore Anderson, an attorney who headed the drive to pass Proposition 47, was pleased by reports that there might be an overall improvement in the justice system, even if some adjustment is being required by the initiative.
“My highest hope is that we start to really see some initiation that people haven’t seen previously,” she said.
For example, this year’s state budget contains $15 million for the police to experiment with using diversion programs and case managers to help low-level and prostitutes drug dealers in the place of putting them in jail.