The California State Auditor issued a stinging 58 page report in November 2005 that squarely fixed the blame for the purported failure of the recent parole violators alternatives-to-reincarceration program on the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) for its failure to establish any performance benchmarks or to analyze available data. The Auditor found that the programs result of saving only $14.5 million of the projected $50.2 million for the first year was tied to delays in the programs implementation.
Not stated by the Auditor was the real reason for the programs failure, that the powerful prison guards union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, (CCPOA) wanted it to fail because the concept of having fewer of Californias 128,000 parolees returned to prison meant less pay for its members. The CCPOA made a weak attempt at distancing itself from its self-serving opposition to the states saving hundreds of millions of dollars currently wasted on reincarcerating technical parole violators. It first created a six-figure trust fund for its puppet victims rights organization (Crime Victims United (CVU)) and then had CVU publicly decry the program by using that money for anti-program TV ads and mobile billboards circling the State Capitol. Indeed, the CCPOA, via its parole agent members, controls the very valves that regulate this return-to-custody cash cow, the paycheck-fattening artifact of bed-vacancy-driven recidivism.
The hot button question as to the programs efficacy was whether keeping technical parole violators off the streets by paying for their reincarceration outweighed the cost to the Community of having some of these same parolees commit more crimes while attending non-incarceration alternatives. CDCR itself projected that the program would save $50.2 million in year one and $100.2 million in year two. But before it was evaluated by CDCR and formally terminated, the program was earlier summarily branded a failure and closed by then CDCR Secretary Roderick Hickman [a CCPOA member]. However, the Valdivia v. Schwarzenegger federal court [see PLN, Apr. 2004, p.24] later forced CDCR to reinstate most of it; whereupon the first years effort was evaluated by the Auditor.
The programs political detractors advertised that for the approximately 2,500 parolees diverted from reincarceration, there was an equal number of new commitments refilling their beds who had committed new crimes. CDCR correctly reported that some of these new crimes came from program parolees, but then drew the tautological conclusion that it was only the program parolees committing new crimes who refilled all the beds. Not so. Most of the returnees to prison were simply other parole violators who were reincarcerated at the pleasure of the union- member parole agents to keep all prison beds occupied. The job of the Auditor was to sort through the data to determine how the program really measured up to its projected cost-saving billing.
And there the audit was frustrated to a halt. The Auditor determined first that CDCR simply had never established any benchmarks to measure the programs success (or failure). It further found that the data available to CDCR was never properly analyzed. Finally, the Auditor concluded that CDCR had no basis for determining whether the benefits of using intermediate sanctions [the program] outweighed the risk to public safety.
The Auditor observed that CDCR unrealistically projected that the program, scheduled to commence January 1, 2004, would be filled to capacity on its first day and continue at capacity. Specifically, CDCR projected that 12,000 participating violators would be processed annually, whereas in reality, after long delays in starting the programs, only 5,742 entered by December 31, 2004. Of these, 2,567 were placed in Substance Abuse Treatment Control Units and 3,175 went into the Halfway Back program. Five percent of the 5,742 were returned to prison for new crimes during their program participation. An additional 1,732 in these programs were returned to prison for new parole violations in that period.
However, CDCR had no benchmark measuring standards in place to determine if the results achieved were any improvement, given the average annual cost of a parolee in 2004 at $3,364 and an incarcerated prisoner at $30,929. The Auditor massaged available CDCR data on the 78,000 parolee returns-to-custody in 2004. Twenty percent returned with new crimes while the remaining 80 percent had only parole violations. Based upon the above costs, it would appear that the lower program failure rate still outperformed the no-program rate, hands down. CDCR had contracted with the University of California at Irvine to analyze the program between December 2004 and June 2007, but Irvine was never able to gain useful data because the program was unilaterally canceled after only one year.
CDCR agreed with the Auditors findings, but escaped the consequences by simply terminating the alternative sanctions program permanently and replacing it with its new In-Custody Drug Treatment Program and Electronic In-Home Detention Program. Recognizing the need for performance benchmarks, CDCR announced that it would define the benchmark and will explore a system of collecting data to verify program success by April 30, 2006.
Meanwhile, parole violators will continue to fill every open prison bed and no accountability of new programs will even be possible, pending the indefinite exploration of a data collection system.
In other words, the CCPOA won; parolees, their families and taxpayers lost. See: CDCR: The Intermediate Sanctions Programs Lacked Performance Benchmarks and Were Plagued with Implementation Problems, California State Auditor Report No. 2005-ill (Nov. 2005). (Single copies
free from Bureau of State Audits, 555 Capitol Mall, Suite 300, Sacramento,
CA 95814; also atwww.bsa.ca.gov and www.prisonlegalnews.org.)
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login