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California: CDCR Releases Latest Recidivism Report

In October 2010, in what California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Secretary Matthew Cate billed as the first in a series of annual reports designed to provide new insights to policy-makers and correctional stakeholders with regard to the dynamics of recidivism, CDCR's Office of Research released its "2010 Adult Institutions Outcome Evaluation Report." The report presents recidivism rates from a three-year follow-up period for all felons released from CDCR's Division of Adult Institutions in fiscal year (FY) 2005-06 (the period between July 1, 2005, and June 30, 2006).

What distinguishes the 2010 report from previous CDCR recidivism reports-CDCR has reported recidivism rates for felons released from custody since 1977 -- is its redesign of the methodology used to identify the recidivism "cohort" (i.e., felons who meet the definition of recidivists). In the past, CDCR measured recidivism by tracking returns to prison; while still regarding that as the most reliable and useful measure for its purposes, CDCR now reports recidivism by tracking three different measures: arrests, convictions, and returns to prison. (Arrests yield the highest rate of recidivism; convictions, the lowest. For instance, in FY 2007-08, the one-year recidivism rate was 57.0% as measured by arrests; it was only 20.8% as measured by convictions, while it was 47.5% as measured by returns to prison.) Additionally, whereas in the past 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), it has now expanded the cohort to include not only first-releases, but direct discharges and re-released felons as well (and tracks them all for the full follow-up period, regardless of their status as active or discharged). Re-released felons made up just over 40% of the expanded recidivism cohort.

Significantly, the 2010 report presents recidivism rates in terms of various characteristics, including gender, age at release, ethnicity, types of commitment offense, length-of-stay, and number of stays, providing lawmakers and correctional stakeholders with data that can be useful in shaping correctional policy and practice in the future.

Among the reports "key findings" was a slight decline (by all measures) in the one-year rate, of recidivism since FY 2005-06. (Arrests dropped from 58.8% to 57.0% in FY 2007-08, while, in that same period of time, convictions dropped from 22.1% to 20.8% and returns to prison dropped from 49.1 % to 47.5%.)

Overall, 67.5% of all felons released in FY 2005-06 returned to prison within three years. (In other words, 32.5% successfully stayed out, at least for that period of time.) Significantly, for first-releases, the rate of recidivism (60.7%) was 16.8 percentage points lower than that for re-releases (77.5%) over that period. The overall recidivism rate after one year was 49.1%, while it was 62.5% after two years (with the disparity in rates of recidivism between first-releases and re-releases similar in those shorter periods of time to what it was in the longer, three-year period).

Of the 73,350 felons who recidivated (within three years), nearly three-quarters returned to prison within a year of their release.

Males recidivated at a rate of 68.6%, nearly 11 points higher than females. (Males outnumbered females by almost nine to one in the FY 2005-06 cohort.)
In general, recidivism rates decrease with age, with felons released at age 24 or younger returning to prison at a rate of nearly 75%. For felons released between the ages of 25 and 49, rates of recidivism vary between 65% and 69%. The rate is 60.4% for felons between the ages of 50 and 54, 55.1% for felons between 55 and 59, and 46.3% for felons over the age of 60.
Among the races, recidivism rates varied as follows: 69.6% for whites, 61.7% for Hispanics/Latinos, 73.7% for blacks/African-Americans, 59.7% for Asians, 74.6% for Native Americans/Alaska Natives, 58.5% for Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders, and 58.8% for all others. Among first-releases, there appeared to be some relation between ethnicity and recidivism, but the relationship was far less evident among re-releases.

Prisoners committed for property crimes consistently recidivate at a higher rate than those committed for other crimes, while those committed for crimes against persons consistently recidivate at the lowest rate.

Registered sex offenders recidivate at a rate lower than other felons; similarly, felons designated as serious or violent offenders recidivate at a rate lower than those not so designated.
Recidivism rates increase with lengths-of-stay up to 19-24 months (peaking at 71.5%) and decrease thereafter, dipping below 60%, however, only for those who served 10-15 years or longer. Those who served over 15 years recidivated at a significantly lower rate (under 38%).
Over a prisoner's entire criminal career, the rate of recidivism is likely to increase with each additional return to prison.

Source: CDCR Office of Research, 2010 Adult Institutions Outcome Evaluation Report, 10/11/10.

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