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Impact of defelonizing drug possession on recidivism
Criminology & Public Policy  (IF4.333),  Pub Date : 2020-02-21, DOI: 10.1111/1745-9133.12489
Mia Bird, Viet Nguyen, Ryken Grattet

California's Proposition 47 (Prop 47), passed in November 2014, sought to scale back punishment for selected drug and property offenses, making them misdemeanors rather than felonies. Although others have examined the impacts of Proposition 47 on crime rates, here we examine the impacts on a range of recidivism outcomes specifically for individuals convicted for drug possession offenses. We focus on the defelonization of drug possession because nationally evidence suggests that public and policy maker sympathy for reducing incarceration use is greatest for nonviolent drug offenders. Thus, the greatest relevance of Proposition 47 to the nation lies in its strategy of defelonizing drug possession. We draw on an ongoing data collection effort on criminal justice populations in 12 California counties and link these data to rearrest and reconviction data from county and state‐level sources. We find people who received drug possession convictions after Prop 47 had lower overall rearrest and reconviction rates than people with comparable convictions and criminal histories released prior to the proposition. Overall reductions in recidivism rates for Prop 47 drug offenders were driven by reductions in rearrest and reconviction for drug possession offenses. These findings are robust to a variety of specifications and sensitivity analyses. When we complicate the narrative of declines in nonviolent recidivism, however, we find evidence of a 2.8‐percentage‐point increase in rearrest for crimes against persons, mainly assaults and domestic violence. Reconviction rates for crimes against persons for drug possession offenders also increased by 1.1 percentage points.