When it comes to criminal justice, as California goes, so goes the nation. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the state ramped up mass incarceration and passed laws that had adverse consequences, especially for low-income communities and communities of color.
States across the country emulated California’s tough-on-crime tactics. Now, California is again leading on criminal justice reform, but this time setting the tone for a smarter and more equitable system. Perhaps more than any other state, California is immersed in a period of fundamental reform to its criminal justice system, most of which are intended to reduce the state’s massive prison population.
So far, these reforms seem to be working: California has a much lower incarceration rate than the national average. Perhaps more importantly, these significant reforms have not harmed public safety. Regardless, corrections costs remain high, racial inequities persist throughout California’s criminal justice system, and surveys reveal that Californians still perceive bias in the state’s criminal justice system. As California looks to the future, it must grapple with calls for new reforms to other aspects of the system, including sweeping police reform in an effort to target racial disparities, and maintain a focus on a more equitable criminal justice system throughout the state.
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