Overall Calif. Crime Drops Amid Prison Realignment

PHOTO: This Dec. 19, 2012 photo shows the body of a woman covered under a yellow tarp after she was killed by an errant bullet on the International Boulevard in Oakland, Calif.

(AP Photo/Oakland Tribune, Bay Area News Group, Ray Chavez)

Los Angeles officials announced that the city's crime rate fell for the tenth straight year – contrary to fears that recent gains might be reversed due to the court-ordered, prison realignment statewide.

Falling crime rates in California parallel a national trend that shows that even as the population grows, raw crime numbers continue to fall.

In Los Angeles, gang crimes fell 10.5 percent and violent crimes 8.2 percent in 2012. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa even touted that Los Angeles had the lowest number of violent crimes per capita of any major city, including New York and Chicago.

Police Chief Charlie Beck and the mayor credit a larger police force and a smarter, data-driven approach to tackling crime.

Still, this comes at a time when the state was working to reduce the prison population after a court found that its prisons – at 188 percent capacity – were severely overcrowded and failed to provide adequate health care. Following a court order, Governor Jerry Brown has been struggling to meet the 137.5 percent capacity mandate by June 2013.

The concern was that realignment would overburden county jails – leaving them unable to keep up capacity. So far, it doesn't appear to be pushing violent crimes back up. However, some reports are blaming these releases for an uptick in property crimes – namely cellphone thefts.

This week, hours before a target deadline, the governor filed a motion to halt the program – claiming that the state had made significant progress.

"The overcrowding and health care conditions cited by this Court to support its population reduction order are now a distant memory," said court papers. "California's vastly improved prison health care system now provides inmates with superior care that far exceeds the minimum requirements of the Constitution."

Another interesting surprise is that the Great Recession was expected to bring a new wave of crime, but it didn't – baffling social scientists.

Another change that may come into play soon is a voter-approved revision of the state's Three Strikes Law. The change will limit 25-to-life sentences to third strike offenders convicted of violent or "serious" felonies only.

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An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that inmates were released early from prison.

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