What works and what doesn't? Keeping offenders from committing more crimes

August 25, 2011 by Susan Lovenburg

Dr. Edward Latessa speaks to a packed house

You’ve heard the statistics.  California spends more on prisons than higher education.  About 11% of the state budget - roughly $8 billion - goes to the penal system.  Despite all this spending, California’s recidivism rate is 70%. That means seven in ten offenders return to prison - the highest level in the nation.

Governor Jerry Brown’s realignment plan shifts authority for community corrections by moving responsibility for non-violent offenders from the state to counties.  For many counties, the challenges of taking on this responsibility seem daunting.

On Tuesday, California Forward and Yolo County partnered - bringing together district attorneys, sheriffs, chiefs of police, public defenders, and health and social service administrators from 23 northern California counties - to discuss the best ways to reduce recidivism. 

Dr. Edward Latessa, director of the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati, has spoken in front of more than 550 correctional programs throughout the U.S.  He told the group what works.

  • Focus on high risk behaviors of high risk offenders - that lead them to commit crimes
  • Teach offenders how to think about and modify their behavior, allow them to practice with graduated difficulty, and demonstrate how they benefit
  • Engage positive role models to support them
  • Continually assess success and discontinue programs that don’t work

What doesn’t work?  What can, in fact, do harm?

  • Treatments that don’t focus on behavior - like drug education or talk therapy
  • Using the same treatment on low-risk and high-risk offenders 
  • Implementing programs without adequate staff training

At California Forward, we know realignment can be more than a shift of responsibilities.  Done right, with local government agencies working together and guided by evidence-based practices, realignment can reduce recidivism, lower prison costs, and free precious resources for other state priorities.

The bottom line, says Yolo County CAO Patrick Blacklock, “We welcome this opportunity to improve the public safety of our community.”

Susan Lovenburg is the Sacramento regional partnerships coordinator.