California’s recidivism rate drops but remains one of the nation’s highest

WTF CDCR recidivism rate drops hp 1.3.12

California’s recidivism rate has fallen to 65.1% during the past year but the state still leads the nation in the percentage of inmates returned to prison within the first three years of release. 

Three-year outcomes for inmates released by CDCR in fiscal year 2006-2007. GRAPHIC SOURCE: California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation

A recent report by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation showed a 2.4% drop in the state’s recidivism rate. The reduction meant that 2,766 fewer prisoners, released during fiscal year 2006-2007, were sent back to prison within the first three years of their parole.

“Even a slight drop in the overall percentage can equate to thousands of inmates who have not returned to prison and likely prevented the victimization of countless citizens,” said Matthew Cate, Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. In addition, the lowered recidivism rate could save taxpayers about $30 million.

Despite the improvement, California’s recidivism rate remains 20% higher than the national average of 43.3%, according to a 2011 study conducted by the Pew Center on the States.

Key Findings from the CDCR’s 2011 Adult Institutions Outcome Evaluation Report:

  • California released 115,254 state prisoners during fiscal year 2006-2007. By 2010, 75,018 (or 65.1%) of those released were sent back to prison and only 40,236 parolees (or 34.9%) managed to stay out of prison after three years.
  • Contrary to what many people may think, most offenders sent back to California’s prisons did not committed new crimes after their release. The CDCR report showed that 45% of those released were sent back to prison for violating the parole process (such as not complying with certain technical requirements or conditions of their release); 7% committed drug crimes, 7% committed property crimes, 3% committed crimes against persons, and 2% for other offenses. The statistics showed that only 19% of the offenders returned to prisons have committed new crimes. The Pew study suggested that California’s policy of mandatory parole – typically lasting three years – for released inmates combined with the longstanding practice of prison stays to punish parole violators are the underlying causes for the state’s high recidivism rate. “That is a long time to abide by the often strict conditions imposed on parolees,” the Pew study noted.
  • Inmates who have spent time in solitary confinement, or the Secure Housing Unit (SHU), have higher recidivism rate  (69.8%) than those who have not (64.8%). Inmates would be placed in the SHU if they have been validated as a member of a prison gang or assaulted other inmates and prison staff. Several experts have recently testified about the long-term psychological damages from extended solitary confinement stays. Inmates at several state prisons staged several mass hunger strikes last year protesting SHU policies and conditions. In response, CDCR told state lawmakers that it will move forward with reforms to improve the gang validation process and provide a stepping-down program to allow SHU inmates to earn their way out of solitary confinement.
  • Inmates with mental health issues are more likely to return to prison within three years of release. Inmates who participate in either the Enhanced Outpatient Program (EOP) or the Correctional Clinical Case Management System (CCCMS) have higher recidivism rates than those who are not mentally ill. The recidivism rate for EOP participants is 75.1% and 70.3% for CCCMS inmates compared to 63.9% for inmates with no mental health issues. However, the good news is recidivism rate for CCCMS inmates released in fiscal year 2006-2007 dropped 4% compared to those released in fiscal year 2005-2006.
  • Developmentally disabled inmates, or those with IQ below 75 or with other cognitive impairments, have a 77.7% recidivism rate, which is nearly 13% higher than the average inmate.
  • Inmates participate in substance abuse programs after release are more likely to stay out of prison than those who do not complete continued care. The recidivism rate is 29.3% for inmates who completed in-prison substance abuse program and continued treatment post-release. However, the recidivism rate jumped to 66.5% for inmates who have completed the in-prison program but did not participate in aftercare. Even inmates who did not participate in the substance abuse program while in prison but completed drug programs after release have a much lower recidivism rate at 46.2%. The statistics indicated that completion of post-prison substance abuse program could be the key to reducing recidivism.
  • Younger inmates are more likely to be sent back to prison within three years of release. “Conforming to the general theory that people age out of criminal activity, the overall recidivism rate for inmates released in FY-2006-07 declines with age,” the CDCR report noted. The recidivism rate for inmates between ages 18 and 19 is at 75.7% whereas the recidivism rates for older inmates dropped to 62.8% between age 45 to 49; 58.4% between age 50 to 54; 54.3% between 55 to 59; and 46.3% for inmates 60 years and older.
  • Although registered sex offenders have a slightly higher recidivism rate than non-sex offenders (66.9% compared to 65%), 8 out of 10 (or 84.4%) sex offenders were returned to prison for parole violations. Less than 6% were sent to prison for committing new sex crimes. The remaining 9.7% returned to prison for committing new non-sex crimes, such as property theft, drug possession, and others.
  • Serious or violent felons have a lower recidivism rate (60.9%) than non-violent offenders (66.2%).
  • Black/African-American inmates have the highest recidivism rate (71.4%) followed by White inmates (67.1%), Hispanic/Latino inmates (59.5%), and Asian inmates (58.7%). Hispanic/Latino inmates, who make up 37.5% of the parolees, have a significantly lower recidivism rate than either White or Black/African-American inmates and is 5.6% below the state’s average.
  • Although 26.4% of state prisoners are released to Los Angeles County, Los Angeles has the state’s lowest recidivism rate at 57% – more than 8% below the state average. San Joaquin (77.6%), Fresno (76.3%), Stanislaus (74.2%), San Bernardino (72%), San Diego (71.5%), and Kern (70.3%) counties rank the highest in recidivism rates.

Read more: California attempts to fix broken prison system with realignment

The 2011 public safety realignment plan could help reduce California’s high recidivism rate and chronic prison overcrowding by shifting more resources toward helping inmates reintegrate after release. The realignment allows CDCR to focus on incarcerating and monitoring paroles of violent, serious, or sex offenders. Non-violent criminals and parole violators can serve their time in local jails instead of state prisons. In addition, local governments will be responsible for providing mental health, substance abuse, job assistance, and other social services to help keep parolees out of prison. So far, local governments have received $400 million in realignment funding. Last December, Gov. Jerry Brown filed a ballot measure to guarantee funding for the public safety realignment. Local governments could receive as much as $850 million in realignment funds for fiscal year 2012-13.

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