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California AG Takes Active Role in Reducing Recidivism

May 27th, 2011

A panel consisting of 435 law enforcement and reform experts released their recommendations on March 16, 2011, after reviewing 11 problem areas of crime ranging from gangs, guns, enforcement of environment laws, school truancy, mortgage fraud, consumer protection, civil rights and victims’ rights at the request of California State Attorney General Kamala Harris. The panel has made recommendations to Attorney General Harris that she take a more active role in the rehabilitation of parolees to keep them from returning to prison. The panel believes that reducing recidivism, which was part of Attorney General Harris’ campaign promises last year, should be one of the primary functions of the California State Attorney General. The Attorney General has not indicated whether or not she will be acting upon the recommendations.

According to statistics, seven out of 10 parolees commit repeat offenses and return to prison within three years. While California spends almost double the national average on inmate incarceration costs and close to a third more than the national average on the supervision of parolees, equating to a dime out of every dollar in the state’s general fund, the expenditures are not substantially reducing recidivism. The panel concluded that it would be more cost effective for the State of California to concentrate its efforts on providing education and training for ex-convicts and by helping them find housing and jobs, which would produce much better long term results. Right now, California does not have unified rehabilitation programs among its agencies for parolees. To address this issue, the panel recommended that Attorney General Harris follow the model that several other states have by convening a state level “re-entry council”, whose function would be to coordinate services among various state agencies.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Cost Cutting Models

While the panel’s recommendations are a good start, budget cuts in California are making it more difficult to fund current programs. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) cost containing rehabilitation model is now using strategies such as shortening the length of in prison substance abuse treatment, using more volunteers, using long term offenders as counselors and literacy tutors and finding alternative ways to deliver educational programs. They are also using a risk assessment tool, COMPAS, to review a convict’s criminal history and other characteristics, including age, to determine their re-offend probability in order to assign them to the best program to mitigate repeat offenses.  The CDCR’s policies of  using the latest science and other proven techniques has helped reduce recidivism by reducing prison overcrowding and increasing the chances that offenders will be succeed after their return to society and is also saving California taxpayers money.

Other CDCR Successful Programs

The CDCR was instrumental in spearheading legislation which provided the following programs:
·    Increase in inmate educational and vocational participation.
·    COMPAS offender risk assessment tool.
·    Prison to prison employment program which helps offenders find employment by matching prison jobs to community jobs, providing documentation necessary to secure employment prior to their release from prison such as a social security card or birth certificate, providing resumes, assisting with license applications and trade union memberships, and arranging for partnerships with the 49 Local Workforce Investment Boards (LWIB) in the State to work with CDCR parolees to help them find employment.
·    Addition of 2,000 in prison substance abuse slots.
·    Addition of over 300 parolee mental health slots.
·    At least 2,000 re-entry beds.

In order to further improve results, the California legislature will also need to get involved by enacting new laws supporting more rehabilitation programs such as those recommended by the panel so that Governor Brown can sign them into law.

If you are facing a parole hearing, you should consult with a California criminal defense attorney who understands how the Board of Parole Hearings work and can present a written and verbal presentation on your behalf to convince the Board that you are rehabilitated and ready to return to society as a productive member of the community. The attorney can also refer you to community programs that will help you find housing and employment.


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