Los Angeles County sends more people to prison than any other county in California. According to recent statistics by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, however, prison rates in both LA County and the State of California have dropped dramatically under the state’s prison realignment program. For those accused of drug offenses, theft and property crimes, and parole violations in particular, the news is positive. Since California was forced by the U.S. Supreme Court to radically change its prison practices in order to reduce overcrowding, their chance of a non-violent offender being sentenced to prison is significantly lower now than it was only eight months ago.

This does not necessarily mean that fewer people are being incarcerated in California. The prison realignment program, which began in October 2011, was designed to reduce overreliance on the state prison system by redirecting non-serious, non-violent, non-sex offenders to incarceration or supervision by counties and other local jurisdictions.

Before the prison realignment program, California imprisoned more people than any other criminal justice in the world except for the federal government, reaching a peak of 170,794 in 2006.

Overall, LA County has been sending 41 percent fewer people to prison since realignment began. 18 counties, including Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Bernardino, show reductions of more than 50 percent. Orange County sent 47 percent fewer new people to state prisons, and Riverside and San Diego counties sent 40 percent and 33 percent fewer respectively. California’s state prison population has been reduced by more than 25 percent to approximately 136,000 — the lowest in 17 years.

Here’s a quick rundown of the numbers of new people sentenced to California prisons since realignment began:

  • All theft and property crimes: Down 63 percent
  • Petty theft with a prior offense: Down 64 percent
  • All drug crimes: Down 71 percent
  • Marijuana possession or sale: Down 74 percent
  • Parole violations: Down 47 percent
  • Rape: Up 37 percent

It is perfectly reasonable that people convicted of crimes strongly prefer to be sentenced to local jails where it is easier for friends and family to visit and for inmates to handle their affairs — and this outcome is far better for the State of California, as well. Non-violent, non-serious offenders simply do not pose a degree of danger to society that justifies the enormous expense and cost to liberty of incarcerating them in state prisons.

According to the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice, this decline should reduce California’s prison costs by more than $1.3 billion.

Read the Center’s full report here.


  • KPCC Southern California Public Radio, “LA County is sending drastically fewer people to prison post-realignment,” Rina Palta, June 14, 2012
  • KPCC Southern California Public Radio, “California’s prison population drops dramatically,” Rina Palta, June 13, 2012
  • “Eight Months into Realignment: Dramatic Reductions in California’s Prisoners,” Mike Males, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, June, 2012