Revamping suggested for state's new definition of recidivism

The Fresno BeeJune 18, 2014 

Recidivism is generally defined as repeated imprisonment, but California law enforcement officials have different meanings depending on the county where they work.

Board of State and Community Corrections officials spent Wednesday in Fresno taking comments from law enforcement leaders about how to define recidivism. It was the first of three meetings to consider changes to the newly proposed definition, which a board committee says is "a conviction of a new crime committed within three years of release from custody or committed within three years of placement on supervision for a previous conviction."

The agency's definition, state officials say, is proposed to establish statewide uniformity to collect statistics for repeat offenders.

Some said the new definition for recidivism doesn't go far enough.

"It should include not only convictions, but also arrests and returns to custody," said Dean Flippo, Monterey County district attorney and chairman of the California District Attorney's Association.

He said that every arrest affects the operations of county jails and police departments.

The definition under consideration was drawn up by a panel that included state prison officials, law enforcement, district attorneys, probation officials, a university criminology researcher, crime victims advocates and county officials.

A new definition was required by Assembly Bill 1050, which charged the Board of State and Community Corrections to create new statewide definitions for such things as "average daily population" related to jails and prisons and "treatment program completion rates."

But committee members were worried about asking too much from counties and were reluctant to impose an "unfunded mandate" on local governments, said Linda Penner, former Fresno County probation chief and now executive officer of the Board of State and Community Corrections.

Kings County Sheriff David Robinson, who represented the California State Sheriff's Association on the committee that defined recidivism, said they wanted to use a number that "any agency in the state could capture and be consistent across the board."

Robinson said counties already provide conviction rates to the state and that arrests don't always result in convictions.

He also said costs for data collection were a factor because the committee didn't want to "put such a burden on a county or any other entity that is trying to collect this data."

But crime victims' advocate Christine Ward said that using only convictions was "far too narrow." She suggested widening the definition to include any return to custody within three years of release from jail or alternative custody program.

Ward was the victim of domestic violence 22 years ago and said her attacker was sentenced to one year in jail. Days after his release her assailant, who was her husband, began calling her and making death threats. He violated his probation and was sent to prison, but because he was returned to custody and not convicted, his violation did not count as a second conviction.

"Under this definition, he wouldn't have been considered a recidivist," said Ward, executive director of the Crime Victims Action Alliance. "It's very important to broaden the scope, so we can get a true indication of what's going on in our communities."

Wednesday's meeting in Fresno was the first of three scheduled. A meeting will be held in Los Angeles today and Wednesday in San Francisco.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, mbenjamin@fresnobee.com or @beebenjamin on Twitter.

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