The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has made reducing recidivism a chief priority.
So there was some cause for celebration last week as the agency announced a drop in the percentage of the state’s paroled inmates who reoffended and landed back in prison within a year of their release. Specifically, the one-year recidivism rate declined 1.6 points to 47.5 percent, based on data from 2007-08, the most recent available.
CDCR attributes the improvement to in-house programs, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported:
‘These results are very encouraging’ and reflect Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's commitment to rehabilitation, said department Secretary Matthew Cate.
Assistant Secretary Steven Chapman said the 1.6 percentage point decline reflected a reduction of thousands of crimes.
That stated commitment to rehabilitation has been seriously challenged by California’s epic, ongoing budget woes. Education and rehabilitation programs have suffered some of the deepest cuts of any part of state government, which The Sacramento Bee detailed in March:
The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is slashing $250 million – almost 45 percent – of the $560 million it was to spend on rehabilitation this fiscal year.
That means a 30 percent trim in high school equivalency and other literacy and vocational courses – 800 out of 1,500 instructors have been let go – and a 40 percent cut in substance-abuse programs.
Peggy Bengs, a corrections department spokeswoman, said the budget rehabilitation and education programs budget is $350 million, approximately what it was last fiscal year. The higher funding levels of years past are unlikely to return soon, if ever.
“With the budget the way it is in Sacramento, it doesn’t look too promising at the moment,” Bengs said.
Seventy-four percent of California prison inmates ages 18 through 24 return to prison within three years, according to the corrections department report. That number is significantly higher than the rest of the population, which overall has a recidivism rate of 67.5 percent.
Those figures, however, do not reflect the impact this year’s budget cuts might have on the number of parolees who commit new criminal offenses, or technical parole violations, after their release. That data won’t be available for years.
Already, the California Rehabilitation Oversight Board found in June that two-thirds of the spots in state prison academic classes were unfilled.
Much of the research on how educational programs influence recidivism has found a strong correlation.
In a research paper arguing that inmates should receive federal financial aid for college, Bard College’s Prison Initiative argues that advanced education is a proven tool [PDF] in reducing recidivism. The paper summarizes the largest conclusions:
An analysis conducted on behalf of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons finds that the positive effect of post-secondary education is independent of these factors. Most striking is the Bureau’s finding that lower rates of recidivism are independent of post-release employment, and its conclusion that this is attributable to the ‘normalizing’ effects of education itself.
Other studies sponsored by the Federal Bureau of Prisons find that recidivism rates are inversely related to educational program participation while in prison. The more educational programs successfully completed for each 6 months confined, the lower the recidivism rates.