A report released yesterday by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice finds that, compared to the 35 California counties that voted Democratic in the 2020 presidential election, the state’s 23 Republican-voting counties have higher rates of violent crime, including homicides.
For decades, Republican candidates and elected officials have demanded a “get-tough” approach to crime that generated more arrests, more imprisonments, and longer prison sentences. As a result, a person is 58 percent more likely to be arrested and 41 percent more likely to be incarcerated in a Republican-voting county than in a Democratic-voting one. Likewise, 12 of the 13 highest-incarceration counties vote Republican, while 16 of the 18 lowest-incarceration counties vote Democratic.
But have the hardline approaches pursued by Republicans officials actually reduced crime? Just the opposite. Republican-voting counties are seeing lesser declines in crime and higher rates of crime, particularly violent offenses and homicides, compared to their Democratic-voting counterparts.
The report finds:
- Violent and property crime rates have declined most rapidly in Democratic-voting counties.
- Homicide rates in Republican-voting counties are now 28 percent higher than in Democratic-voting counties.
- The homicide death rate among White people in Republican-voting counties is on par with people of color in Democratic-voting ones, challenging widely held beliefs about violence in urban communities of color.
- Republican-voting counties experience higher rates of drug, alcohol, and gun deaths than Democratic-voting counties, particularly among White residents.
- Republican-voting counties pay less in state and local taxes per capita but rely more heavily on California’s costly prison system.
The gaps between urban/suburban-Democratic and exurban/rural-Republican California are widening, contributing to extremist politics and intractable divisions. Thirty years ago, the state’s cities experienced the worst economic hardships and highest rates of violent crime. Today, these issues have shifted to its exurbs, small towns, and rural areas.
California, like the rest of the country, suffered a major increase in homicide in 2020. This disturbing development has prompted calls by Republicans, and some Democrats, to roll back criminal justice reforms and reinstate tougher arrest and imprisonment policies. Yet these “get-tough” campaigns ignore an important reality – that Democratic-voting counties, which are more likely to embrace progressive reform, now see fewer violent crimes and homicides per capita than Republican ones.
The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) is a nonprofit nonpartisan organization whose mission is to reduce society’s reliance on incarceration as a solution to social problems. In pursuit of this mission, CJCJ provides direct services, technical assistance, and policy analysis that work in unison to promote a balanced and humane criminal justice system designed to reduce incarceration and enhance long-term public safety.