Capitol Alert: PPIC study says realignment has not reduced recidivism rate

dwalters@sacbee.comJune 27, 2014 

Gov. Jerry Brown's "realignment" of criminal justice procedures, aimed at reducing overcrowding in state prisons by diverting more felons into local jails and probation, has not resulted in lower rates of new criminal activity among offenders, a study by the Public Policy Institute of California concludes.

New offenses by those released from custody are known as "recidivism" and putting felons under local control was supposed to include more drug treatment and other programs to reduce their criminal activity.

However, the PPIC study concludes, "We find that the post-realignment period has not seen dramatic changes in arrests or convictions of released offenders. In the context of realignment's broad reforms to the corrections system, our findings suggest that offender behavior has not changed substantially."

"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 authors of the study, Magnus Lofstrom, Steven Raphael, and Ryken Grattet, continue. "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."

The PPIC study may provide new ammunition for the critics of realignment who contend that the state is solving its prison overcrowding problem under pressure from federal judges but in doing so is putting new burdens on local governments, particularly county jails, that result in more criminal activity.

PPIC's findings do appear, however, to comport with a report last year from the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation that "there is very little difference between the one-year arrest and conviction rates of offenders released pre- and post-realignment."

State officials have been pressuring counties to use the money that they've been receiving to handle diverted felons for drug treatment, mental health and other rehabilitation efforts, rather than build more jail cells, and it's become a bone of contention.

PPIC researchers found that when paroled offenders commit new crimes, they are commonly being processed through the courts and wind up in local jails or probation supervision, rather than being returned to prison as parole violators, which had been the pre-realignment practice.

"Our analysis shows that realignment has, as intended, led to a considerable 33 percentage point drop in the proportion of released inmates who are returned to state prison," the report says. "This demonstrates that realignment has made substantial progress in one of its main goals: reducing the use of prison as a sanction for parole violations and minor criminal offenses."

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