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California’s Crime Rate Falls to a Record Low in 2020, High Reliance on Incarceration not Linked to Lower Crime

SAN FRANCISCO – September 9, 2021 – A report released today by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice analyzes trends for eight Part I felonies included in the FBI’s index of crimes. The report finds that California’s overall crime rate fell by 6 percent in 2020 from the year prior, reaching its lowest level since the state began compiling these statistics more than 50 years ago.

While 2020 shows certain concerning trends, crime rates have fallen steadily over the past decade amid major criminal justice reforms, including some that reduced prison and jail populations and lessened penalties for low-level offenses.

California incarceration (prison plus jail), violent offense, and property offense rates per 100,000 population, 2000 to 2020

The fact sheet finds:

  • California’s homicide rate rose 31 percent in 2020, but remains at a relatively low level. The state, as well as the nation, have experienced a spike in homicides amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Statewide property crime and violent crime rates have declined by 32 percent and 29 percent, respectively, since 2000. Meanwhile, incarceration dropped by 46 percent.
  • California counties that lock up more people per capita experience twice as many homicides per capita than low-incarceration counties, flying in the face of tough-on-crime rhetoric.
  • State taxpayers spend $3.2 billion more every year for high-incarceration counties’ reliance on prisons than if these counties were to adopt lower imprisonment rates.
  • Variation in crime across counties reflects differences in local practices and conditions, such as poverty, COVID-19 impacts, responses to crime, and the volume of visitors.

Read the full report >>

Contact: For more information about this topic or to schedule an interview, please contact CJCJ Communications at (415) 621-5661 x. 103 or

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