Calif. data points to pendulum swing from mass incarceration to “mass victimization”

California’s forced reduction of prison populations has, predictably, driven up a number of categories. Among them? The number of crime victims.

Mass incarceration has been a hot topic phrase around the nation over the last several years, but surging crime in California over the past decade-plus has resulted in a new term that defines the Golden State: mass victimization. 

Law enforcement veteran and Pacific Research Institute senior fellow Steve Smith coined the term in his study that was released this month – Paradise Lost: Crime in the Golden State 2011-2021. 


In an upcoming interview with Sunrise FM, Smith discussed how various laws passed since 2011 have led California to become a state of mass victimization. 

The big picture: Smith’s study focused on Assembly Bill 109, Proposition 47 and Proposition 57 as the three main laws that have brought mass victimization upon Californians. 

  • According to the study, every metric showed 2011 to be the safest California had been in three decades as crime was on a significant downward trend, especially amongst poor and minority communities. 
  • But the Golden State shifted gears in 2011 and started down the path of releasing prisoners who were unfit for release. 

By the numbers: From 1994-2011, Smith finds in his study that the decline in homicides throughout California saved 28,168 lives that would have been lost if the murder level remained at the 1993 rate. 

  • California’s prison population has been anything but mass incarceration since 2011. The Golden State had over 160,000 prisoners in 2011, but by 2021 that number dropped under 110,000. 
  • Sexual assault took a major upswing over the decade, moving from around 8,000 reported incidents of rape to over 14,000 in 2021. 

What they’re saying: In the interview, Smith said he coined the term mass victimization as a play on words from mass incarceration. 

  • “We’ve heard the term mass incarceration for a long time, and that term isn’t really defined any more than it’s more people in prison than people believe should be in prison,” Smith said. “But for every one of those persons in prison there are many many more victims out there. So if the prison population is currently about 94,000, there are hundreds of thousands of crime victims out there.”
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