Inmate Population Growth Slowing

Fewer people being sent to prison as statewide crime rate drops; trend may continue.

by Don Thompson
Associated Press

Sacramento– The March ballot measure expands the definition of serious or violent offenses under California’s three-strikes law and boosts penalties for street-gang activities.

However, fewer criminals are being sent to prison, as the state crime rate has fallen for the eighth straight year. The department predicts that will continue.

“I wish I could claim credit for it,” retiring Corrections Director Cal Terhune said.

When he started three years ago, “the population was on that straight-upward trend and we were going to be totally out of beds by now. Through a combination of things, it appears that upward trend has in fact leveled off.”

He and outside experts credit a booming economy, tight job market, the deterrent value of California’s three-strikes law, better drug treatment and parole programs and crime-prevention programs.

“There’s a real growth pause here,” said University of California at Berkeley law professor Frank Zimring, who has been studying prison growth trends for two decades.

Voters could alter the projections by passing Proposition 36 on the Nov. 7 ballot. The proposition would send first- or second-time nonviolent drug users to treatment instead of prison, which the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office predicts would cut the prison poulation by as many as 24,000 inmates a year.