Prop 47 and California’s Realignment for Non-Violent Offenders


In 2011 the Public Safety Realignment Bill became law in California. This legislation was designed to stem the “revolving door” of non-violent criminals in the state prisons. Realignment, as it is commonly called, was in response to the severe overcrowding in California’s prisons and mandated by requirements set by the federal court. It resulted in major changes in the state’s criminal justice system is administered.

Essentially, realignment provided for offenders convicted of certain non-violent, non-serious crimes would serve their sentence in county facilities rather than the state prison system. It sounds as though the bill just off-loaded low-level felons from the state to the counties and in many respects, that is true. But Realignment is also focused on a reduction in recidivism and has provisions that allow house arrest and other alternative sentencing schemes.

Three years later in 2014, California voters passed Proposition 47, by an overwhelming 60%, which reduced most felony non-serious and non-violent property and drug crimes to misdemeanors. Needless to say, this new law also made substantial inroads in reducing California’s over-crowded prisons. It also reduced the jail populations to the extent that some counties were able to end the “early release” practice that counties were forced to implement in response to the overcrowding of county jails created by Realignment. In fact, in Orange County, the jail populations were reduced to such a degree that the county was able to close up parts of the county jails.

Even though 60% of the voter approved Proposition 47, there was substantial opposition to the proposition from law enforcement organizations and the district attorneys across the state. Arguing that Proposition would not help low-level offenders but will release thousands of felons onto California streets, the opponents maintained that passage of the proposition would present a serious danger to Californians. This fear has not played out.

With these two new laws, California’s criminal justice statutes and sentencing schemes underwent significant reform. While it may yet be too early to come to conclusions, FBI statistics suggest that these reforms have not affected California’s historically low crime rates.

Since the early 1990’s California’s crime rates have seen drastic declines. That trend of decline persisted for around twenty years until the year 2010 when crime rates in California stabilized at these historically low levels. Even after Realignment and the passage of Prop 47, the crime rate has remained stable. This trend is highlighted in a fact sheet recently published by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, which used FBI statistics to support its finding that urban crime trends have remained stable through what is termed “California’s Policy Reform Era.”

In other words, since Realignment and especially after Prop 47, the California prison population and its county jail population has been substantially reduced without increasing crime. Whatever the factors that have influenced the decline and stabilization of crime rates in California, it is noteworthy that the reduction in incarceration has not reversed these trends.

Criminal defense attorney William Weinberg is available to consult with you regarding any criminal matter. You can reach him at his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or email him at