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Crime Increasing in California After 'Prison Reform'

Out here on the Left Coast, it is beginning to dawn on people that when you release criminals from custody in the name of “prison reform,” it is only the prisons themselves that are reformed. The criminals, those who are ushered out the prison gates into an unwary society, remain as un-reformed as ever.

For proof of this, I present as Exhibit A one Michael C. Mejia, age 26, who stands accused of murdering two people in Southern California, one of them a police officer. Police allege that on Monday morning Mejia killed his cousin, Roy Torres, in East Los Angeles and stole his car. Later, while driving the stolen car in Whittier, a suburb about 12 miles southeast of downtown L.A., Mejia rear-ended another car. When police responded to the report of a minor traffic accident, Mejia opened fire on them, killing  Officer Keith Boyer and wounding Officer Patrick Hazell. Mejia was himself wounded in the gun battle but is expected to survive.

In recent years, California has enacted a series of reforms to its criminal justice system, the net effect of which has been the lowering of the state’s prison population. In 2011, the state legislature passed Assembly Bill 109, which brought about a so-called “realignment” in penal responsibilities, shifting some of them from the state to the counties. Since AB 109’s enactment, some felons who would have served time in state prisons are now housed in county jails. Also, some parolees who would have been under the supervision of state parole officers are now monitored by county probation departments. Mejia, about whom more later, was one such parolee.

Proposition 47 was passed by California voters in 2014. The measure redefined some felony crimes, i.e., those deemed to be not serious or violent, as misdemeanors. Most thefts of property valued at less than $950 were thus downgraded, as was the possession for personal use of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.

Last November saw the passage of California’s Proposition 57, which authorized the early release of felons whose crimes are deemed nonviolent. This may sound reasonable until one examines the list of crimes so regarded, which includes assault with a deadly weapon, battery with serious injury, solicitation to commit murder, rape of an unconscious person, and burglary of a home.

Whatever the inanity of any of these measures, they were duly passed and enacted, and we who opposed them are no less obliged to follow them. Still, one cannot help but note the fact that crime in California, both violent and nonviolent, is increasing (PDF). This calls into question the wisdom of any measure whose aim is to diminish the deterrent effect of the state’s penal system. In a rational world, which of course excludes California, such an increase in crime would invite calls to make punishments more severe, not less.