Gavin Newsom wants to curb car break-ins by cutting probation. Here’s how

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to reform probation in California would dramatically cut the amount of time criminals can spend under supervision, capping the maximum penalty at two years instead of five.

He characterizes the proposal as one that would actually reduce crime by focusing resources in the first 18 months of probation and freeing up money for other anti-recidivism programs.

He detailed the plan as part of his 2020 budget proposal. It would shorten the maximum felony probation term from five to two years and the maximum misdemeanor term from three to two years.

“This will be controversial,” Newsom said. “This goes directly to the car break ins, this goes to the petty crime issue. This should be celebrated by the law enforcement community because of the intensity of services we want to provide.”

In California, felons on parole are often given supportive services such as addiction treatment and mental health care. But most people convicted of misdemeanor offenses like petty theft and car break-ins do not receive those services, said El Dorado County Probation Chief Brian Richart.

Richart, who also serves as president of the Chief Probation Officers of California advocacy group, supports Newsom’s plan to boost services for those offenders. In 2018, his group said 356,000 Californians were serving probation.

Research shows supportive services are most effective in the first 18 months of probation, Richart said. Cutting the amount of time probation officers supervise each offender and concentrating services during that time will reduce recidivism, he said.

“We’re applying science to community supervision,” he said. “Anytime you take high and moderate risk offenders, whether they’re misdemeanants or felons, and you expose them to the services that the probation department and officers can provide, you’re going to get better outcomes.”

Newsom’s budget proposal also includes $210 million over four years to fund expanded services for people convicted of misdemeanors. Once that funding runs out, money saved from shortening sentences will fund the concentrated services.

Statewide property crime rates in California have held fairly steady in over the past decade, according to the state Department of Justice. Vehicle burglaries have spiked in certain communities, such as San Francisco.

Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, described the increase as an “explosion” and ran an unsuccessful bill last year to address the issue. That measure, Senate Bill 23, would have removed the requirement that a person whose car was forcibly broken into, such as by shattering a window, prove the car was locked.

Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, said he supports increasing anti-recidivism services for low-level criminals, but cutting the amount of time criminals are supervised is the wrong way to fund it.

A better way to cut down on car thefts would have been to pass Wiener’s bill last year, Lackey said. The former California Highway Patrol officer, who serves as the top Republican on the Assembly Public Safety Committee, said cutting probation sentences will increase crime and lead to higher costs to the criminal justice system in the future.

“The likelihood of someone reoffending when they’re not getting services, I would argue is much greater,” Lackey said. “So how in the world does this make us safer? It does not.”