Don Specter’s interesting and important Federal Sentencing Reporter piece is a good overview of conditions in California prisons to-date. I strongly recommend reading the piece in its entirety. I found this bit particularly interesting:
The belief that a reduction in the prison population leads to more crime is not supported by data or the experience in many jurisdictions that have used early release to reduce their correctional populations. A 2007 study by the National Council of Crime and Delinquency reviewed thirteen reports on the early release of prisoners in the United States and Canada.54 In each case, the crime rates remained the same or declined during the early-release period, and the prisoners released early did not commit more crimes than their counterparts who served the full sentence. In jurisdictions that provided community- based supportive services, recidivism rates declined.
Nor is there a change in the crime rate when correctional facilities cap their populations. From 1996 to 2006, twenty-one California counties released 1.7 million inmates early because of jail overcrowding. During that same period, the number of reported serious crimes dropped by 18 percent. A similar, although less dramatic, reduction in the crime rate occurred during the most recent three-year period.
One reason that there is no direct link between releasing prisoners and crime is that parolees are not responsible for as much crime as the public is led to believe. Although featured prominently in media stories about violent crime, parolees actually contribute very little to the crime rate. A study by the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that parolees account for less than 5 percent of serious crimes.