With a major shift in how California deals with its inmates ongoing, the standard is changing more than ever from simply incarcerating criminals to truly focusing on their rehabilitation, including everything from efforts to enroll released offenders in the Affordable Care Act to evaluating releases based on overcrowding.
As the long road to get that mission right continues, there is increasing evidence that there is no one-size-fits-all solution and many variations will need to be addressed along the way. Implementing AB 109 realignment remains being smart about providing the right services locally for the right people–before and after they're released–and helping to cut rates of recidivism.
“In order for us to change this problem, we need more effective strategies and policies that are targeting the right individuals,” said Public Policy of California (PPIC) researcher Magnus Lofstrom. “I think you can see from the outcomes of the realignment efforts thus far that there is no one answer to changing the way that we approach decreasing recidivism.”
According to study by PPIC study authored by Lofstrom and two other researchers, the number of convictions among released offenders rose slightly, with the likelihood that an arrest will lead to a conviction increasing by approximately 3 percent.
“Overall arrest rates of released offenders are down slightly, with the proportion of those arrested within a year of release declining by two percentage points,” the study said. “At the same time, the proportion of those arrested multiple times has increased noticeably, by about seven percentage points. These higher multiple arrest rates may reflect the substantial increase in the time that released offenders spend on the streets–a result of counties' limited jail capacity.”
Last week, the authors of the study, Lofstrom, Steven Raphael and Ryken Grattet held a hearing further evaluating the findings of their study “Is Public Safety Realignment Reducing Recidivism in California?” One significant change, they stated, has been the change in the entirety of the prison population, which has decreased by 17 percent. However, the researchers emphasize that one of the primary reasons that recidivism hasn’t decreased dramatically is because of the issues with how former criminals are re-acclimated into society.
“A key issue here is the experience of released offenders,” PPIC research fellow Magnus Lofstrom said during the hearing. “Even without the context of realignment, recidivism really speaks to the effectiveness of a state correctional facility at rehabilitating their inmates. When you tie in realignment, I think to even consider the law a success it has to be dependent on its ability to reduce recidivism.”
As solutions to the very low margins of change in recidivism, the PPIC members suggested more effective policies aimed at both crime and rehabilitation, especially since the number of offenders being released throughout the state is only going to increase.
Before realignment, state prisons had difficulty reducing recidivism and many people were coming out of those prisons were no better off, and in some cases worse off, than they were when they went to prison. In fact, an average of two out of three people coming out of prison (PDF) were rearrested within a few years.
Therefore, it's vital that California and its counties keep on the path of finding smart strategies based on real data and success to create real rehabilitation locally instead of locking people up for a long time and hoping for the best.