In an era of bitter partisanship, politicians and pundits across the ideological spectrum seem to agree on one thing: Our prison system is broken. With less than 5 percent of the world's population yet nearly 25 percent of the world's prison inmates, the United States spends too much money locking up too many people for too long.
Some fear that reducing sentences for nonviolent crimes and letting low-level offenders back on the streets - key components of prison reform - could produce a new and devastating crime wave. Such dire predictions were common in 2011 when California embarked on a massive experiment in prison downsizing.
But five years later, California's experience offers powerful evidence that no such crime wave is likely to occur.
In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that California's wildly overcrowded prisons were tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment and ordered the state to reduce its prison population by some 33,000 people in two years. In response, the state enacted the controversial California Public Safety Realignment law, known in legislative shorthand as AB 109.