California has cut the number of prisoners in state facilities for drug convictions in half during the last two years, diverting thousands to local jails, new state figures show.
It's been almost two years since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling that mandated California reduce its prison population drastically due to overcrowding. The resulting realignment has largely focused on reducing the number of drug criminals in state prison through attrition and diversion.
On the last day of 2010, about 25,000 drug criminals were in California prisons. On the last day of 2012, that number had fallen 50 percent to roughly 12,400, according to the latest report from the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The figures represent a sharp acceleration of a long-term trend away from incarcerating drug criminals in state prison. About one drug criminal sits in a California state prison today for every three incarcerated five years ago.
California now incarcerates about 33 drug criminals in state prison per 100,000 residents; the national average is 75 drug criminals per 100,000 residents, federal data show.
"Putting offenders who have committed lower-level crimes in prison for long periods is not generally the best way to spend tax dollars and protect public safety," said CDCR spokesman Jeffrey Callison. "Keeping lower-level drug offenders closer to their families and their communities where they can take advantage of local programs and receive drug treatment makes more sense than sending them to prison where they are surrounded by more hardened criminals.
Some local police agencies have pointed to fewer drug criminals under state control as a possible reason for the recent uptick in crime seen across California, an assertion state corrections officials have said is premature.
Both now and before realignment, the large majority of drug criminals in state prisons were convicted for possessing, selling or manufacturing controlled substances.
This chart shows the number of drug criminals in state prison over the past 10 years.