California Fact Sheet: What Caused the Crime Decline?

California spent $8.618 billion on corrections in 2013. At the same time, between 1980 and 2013, crime in California dropped by 61 percent.

February 12, 2015

What Caused the Crime Decline? examines 14 different theories for the massive decline in crime across the country over the last two decades. It provides a rigorous empirical analysis conducted by a team of economics and criminal justice researchers on over 40 years of data, gathered from all 50 states and the 50 largest cities.

Over the past 40 years, states across the country have sought to fight crime by implementing policies to increase incarceration. The result: The United States is now the largest jailor in the world. With 5 percent of the world’s population, we have 25 percent of its prisoners.

In California, the prison population grew by 514 percent from 1980 to 2006. By 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the state to reduce its imprisonment levels due to unconstitutional prison conditions and severe overcrowding. In response, California implemented laws that helped cut its number of prisoners to 122,800 by 2013. California spent $8.618 billion on corrections in 2013. At the same time, between 1980 and 2013, crime in the state dropped by 61 percent. And the national crime rate was cut in half. 

What caused this drop? Was it the explosion in incarceration? Or was it something else?

California Fact Sheet: What Caused the Crime Decline? by The Brennan Center for Justice