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Grand Theft Auto: California Prison Realignment Edition

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Auto theft increased significantly in California and other property crimes also rose after the state began an initiative resulting in more inmates being released early, according to the first independent study of crime trends driven by the “realignment” program to reduce the state prison population.

While violent crimes did not increase after realignment, the study released Monday by the Public Policy Institute of California found that property crime increased as inmates who previously would have gone to state prisons were instead sent to county jails, which often freed them early due their own overcrowding problems.

About 18,000 offenders who previously would be behind bars are currently free because of early releases or jail diversion programs, the researchers estimate.

The nonpartisan institute blames the law for a nearly 15 percent increase in vehicle thefts in the first year after it took effect in October 2011. That amounts to about 24,000 additional car thefts each year.

Gov. Jerry Brown sought the changes in response to federal court orders requiring the reduction of prison overcrowding to improve medical and mental health treatment for state inmates. The state faces a February deadline to further reduce the prison population, which the researchers projected would result in more crime.

Property crime in general rose nearly 8 percent in California even as the property crime rate dropped nationally.

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