- Associated Press - Thursday, March 31, 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - A voter-approved initiative cut in half the number of offenders jailed for certain property and drug crimes, significantly reducing jail crowding in its first year, researchers reported Wednesday.

Nearly 60 percent of California voters approved Proposition 47 in November 2014.

The ballot measure changed shoplifting, forgery, fraud, petty theft and possession of small amounts of drugs from felonies that can carry lengthy sentences to misdemeanors that can bring up to a year in jail.

Public Policy Institute of California researchers found that there was an immediate drop in arrests and warrants for those crimes in the 10 counties it surveyed. More offenders charged with those crimes were released on bail. The number of convictions soon declined. And finally, the average jail sentence dropped, also resulting in less time behind bars.

The drop in jail bookings was steeper for drug crimes than for property crimes like theft, they found.

That reduced the state’s overall county jail population by 9 percent in the first year after the measure became law.

As a result, sheriffs were able to keep some more serious offenders locked up longer, reducing early releases due to jail crowding by 65 percent.

The researchers used records from Fresno, Humboldt, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Francisco and Stanislaus counties. Monterey County was included in some of the projections. The counties were selected to represent statewide trends among the 58 California counties.

Some law enforcement officials are blaming Proposition 47 for a recent increase in crime, but researchers at the institute and elsewhere have previously said it is too soon to tell.

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