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California: CDCR Releases 2011 Recidivism Report

On November 23, 2011, in the second in a series of annual reports designed to provide new insights to policy-makers and correctional stakeholders with respect to recidivism rates, the Office of Research of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) released its 2011 Adult Institutions Outcome Evaluation Report.

The report presents recidivism rates from a three-year follow-up period for all felons released from the CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions in fiscal year (FY) 2006-2007, plus one-year recidivism data for FY 2008-09.

In the past, the CDCR measured recidivism by tracking released prisoners who return to prison. While still regarding that as the most reliable and useful measure, the CDCR now reports recidivism by tracking three different measures: arrests, new convictions and returns to prison. Arrests yield the highest rate of recidivism while convictions yield the lowest. For example, in FY 2008-09 the one-year recidivism rate was 57.2% as measured by arrests; it was 45.2% based on returns to prison and only 20.0% as measured by new convictions.

Additionally, whereas in the past the CDCR provided recidivism rates only for felons paroled for the first time on their current term during a specified period of time (and tracked those parolees only until their discharge), beginning in 2010 the CDCR expanded the study cohort to include not only first-time releases but also direct discharges and re-released felons, and tracked them for the full follow-up period regardless of their status as active or discharged from post-release supervision. Re-released felons – those who were paroled, reincarcerated and then released again – made up 41.8% of the prisoners in the expanded study cohort.

Significantly, the 2011 report presents recidivism rates in terms of various characteristics, including gender, age at release, ethnicity, type of commitment offense, length of prison stay and number of stays, providing lawmakers and correctional stakeholders with data that can be useful in shaping the CDCR’s policies and practices in the future.

Among the report’s “key findings” was a slight decline in the one-year rate of recidivism since FY 2006-07 for arrests, convictions and returns to prison, with the exception of a small increase in arrests in FY 2008-09.

Overall, 65.1% of all felons released in FY 2006-07 returned to prison within three years; therefore, 34.9% success-fully stayed out during that time period. Significantly, for first-time releases the three-year rate of recidivism (56.9%) was much lower than the rate for re-releases (76.4%).

Of the 75,019 released CDCR prisoners who recidivated within three years, nearly three-quarters (73.5%) returned to prison in the first year after their release.
Male prisoners recidivated at a rate of 66.3% within three years – nearly 11 points higher than females (55.1%). Male prisoners outnumbered females by almost nine to one in the FY 2006-07 cohort.

In general, recidivism rates decreased with age, with felons released at age 20-24 returning to prison at a rate of 71.7%. For prisoners released between the ages of 25 and 49, rates of recidivism varied between 67.8% and 62.8%. The rate was 58.4% for felons between the ages of 50 and 54, 54.3% for felons aged 55 to 59, and 46.3% for felons over 60 years old.

Comparing races, three-year recidivism rates for the FY 2006-07 cohort varied as follows: 67.1% for whites, 59.5% for Hispanics/Latinos, 71.4% for Blacks/African-Americans, 58.7% for Asians, 72.4% for Native Americans/Alaska Natives, 59.3% for Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders and 56.2% for all other races.

Prisoners convicted of property crimes consistently recidivated at a higher rate (69.1% over three years) than those convicted of other offenses, while prisoners who committed crimes against persons recidivated at a lower rate (62.7%). The commitment offense with the highest recidivism rate was vehicle theft (74.3%), while the crime with the lowest re-ported rate was second-degree murder (7.3%).

Registered sex offenders recidivated at a rate higher than other felons (66.9% over three years). Of the sex offenders who recidivated, 84.4% received parole violations, 9.7% committed new offenses that were not sex crimes and 5.9% committed new sex crimes.
Released prisoners designated as serious or violent offenders recidivated at a rate lower than those without that designation – 60.9% over three years, compared with 66.2% for prisoners not considered serious or violent offenders.

Approximately 14% of released CDCR prisoners were designated as having mental health problems and were classi-fied for an Enhanced Outpatient Program (EOP) or placed in the CDCR’s Correctional Clinical Case Management System (CCCMS). Such prisoners had higher recidivism rates over three years: 75.1% for EOS prisoners and 70.3% for CCCMS prisoners, compared with 63.9% for prisoners with no designated mental health issues.

Prisoners who were assigned to a Security Housing Unit (SHU) while incarcerated had three-year recidivism rates higher than those of prisoners without SHU status (69.8% vs. 64.8%).

The report found that over a prisoner’s entire criminal career, the rate of recidivism was likely to increase with each additional return to prison. Prisoners with 15 or more prison stays had a recidivism rate of 86.5%. However, recidivism rates dropped as offenders served lengthy sentences and presumably “aged out” of crime; for example, prisoners who served over 15 years had a recidivism rate of 40.1%.

“Although most inmates released from CDCR in FY 2006-07 recidivate and return to prison,” the report concluded, “it is important to recognize that slightly more than one-third of these releases remain in the community.”

California’s three-year recidivism rate is significantly higher than the average national rate of 43.3%, based on 2004-2007 data as calculated by the Pew Center on the States [see article on p. 26 of this issue]. Source: 2011 Adult Institutions Outcome Evaluation Report, CDCR Office of Research (November 23, 2011).

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