What happens to offenders who finish a state prison term? Unless they have a life-without-parole sentence, they all eventually go home. They get $200 in "gate money" and have to find jobs and housing. They also are supervised for three years. Unfortunately, during that supervision period in the past, more than two-thirds ended up back in state prison, a dismal success rate.
California's Public Safety Realignment Act of 2011 changed post-prison supervision. Under the realignment law, state parole officers continue to supervise those finishing up prison terms for a serious, violent or sex crime. But since October 2011, counties have supervised the rest through their probation departments.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has released its first report comparing the rates of arrest, conviction and returns to state prison for those who completed their state prison term in the first six months of realignment with those released one year earlier.
Arrest rates are down slightly from the pre-realignment period and conviction rates are slightly up. Now that counties have to deal with parole violators, they are more likely to charge and prosecute those who commit crimes. That's a good thing, showing that realignment is working as intended.
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In the first six months of realignment, of those who had finished their prison terms, 59% had been arrested within their first year out and 23% were convicted of new crimes. Pre-realignment, 62% were arrested within their first year out and 21% were convicted of new crimes. So far, realignment has changed very little -- resulting neither in a crime wave nor a major reduction in crime.
The report also points to the key driver of recidivism: drug addiction. Those who have a drug habit are less employable and resort to property crime to feed their addiction.
The takeaway from the CDCR report should be that the public and leaders at all levels of government should get past doomsday rhetoric about realignment and work with counties to attack the link between drugs and crime. Jailing these folks, over and over again, doesn't solve the problem.