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No Fixed Link Between Crime, Prison Rates

Regarding Allysia Finley’s “California’s Bad Example for Criminal-Justice Reformers” (Cross Country, Oct. 8): One thing my five decades in law enforcement taught me is that locking people up for as long as possible isn’t the most effective way of dealing with crime. As the former police chief in the California cities of Richmond, San Jose and San Diego, I saw too many people cycle in and out of the system no matter how tough our punishments got.

Prison is the proper punishment for the most violent crimes, but it does more harm than good for many with nonviolent offenses, increasing the likelihood they will continue the cycle of crime. That’s why California’s Proposition 47 was so important—the law enables California to reallocate savings from a reduction in incarceration of low-level, nonviolent offenders to community-based crime prevention programs that actually address the drivers of crime.

Despite efforts to scapegoat the law for shifts in crime in some jurisdictions, there is not a shred of credible evidence linking the two. And it’s a total misnomer that reducing the punishment for six low-level, nonviolent crimes from a felony to a misdemeanor has somehow stripped law enforcement of the ability to hold offenders accountable. Most misdemeanors in California continue to be punishable by up to a year in jail.

Local leaders need to join together to expand targeted deterrence strategies, diversion programs, collaborative court models and neighborhood problem solving. Resistance to reform, and not the reform itself, is the problem. Returning to the old, failed polices of the past will only waste more taxpayer resources and fail to keep communities safe.

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