Anti-re­cidi­vism ef­forts fall­ing short, au­dit says

Re­port sug­gests state pris­ons aren’t meet­ing am­bi­tious goals on in­mate re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Jazmine Ul­loa

SACRAMENTO — Cal­i­for­nia set am­bi­tious new goals in 2012 to help state in­mates tran­si­tion into so­ci­ety and in­fused the De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions and Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion with more fund­ing to ful­fill the man­date. But a state au­dit re­leased last month found cor­rec­tions of­fi­cials have failed to con­nect many pris­on­ers with ser­vices, mon­i­tor re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­grams and keep peo­ple away from in­car­cer­a­tion.

State au­di­tors said poor ad­min­is­tra­tive prac­tices re­sulted in 62% of 24,000 in­mates leav­ing state pris­ons with­out hav­ing those needs met in fis­cal year 2017. And re­cidi­vism, the rate at which peo­ple com­mit a sub­se­quent crime within three years out of cus­tody, has re­mained “stub­bornly high,” ac­cord­ing to the au­dit — av­er­ag­ing 50% over the last decade — even as the state in­mate pop­u­la­tion has dropped.

Cog­ni­tive be­hav­ioral ther­apy pro­grams have been de­vel­oped to cor­rect an in­mate’s pat­terns of think­ing and be­hav­ior, and can in­clude classes on sub­stance abuse, anger man­age­ment and fam­ily re­la­tion­ships. In­mates in those pro­grams “re­cidi­vated at about the same rate as in­mates who did not com­plete the pro­grams,” State Au­di­tor Elaine Howle wrote in the re­port. “These re­sults are se­ri­ous enough to high­light an ur­gent need for Cor­rec­tions to take a more ac­tive and mean­ing­ful role in en­sur­ing that these pro­grams are ef­fec­tive.”

The anal­y­sis be­gan with data from fis­cal year 2014 and tracked in­mates over sev­eral years, a pe­riod that cor­rec­tions of­fi­cials said pre­dated the significant ex­pan­sion of pro­grams.

Vicky Wa­ters, cor­rec­tions de­part­ment spokes­woman, said the de­part­ment is tak­ing the au­di­tor’s find­ings se­ri­ously and has been work­ing to im­ple­ment most of the rec­om­men­da­tions, which in­clude ad­dress­ing long­stand­ing staff va­can­cies and eval­u­at­ing ex­ist­ing mech­a­nisms to an­a­lyze of­fend­ers’ needs.

“The de­part­ment is com­mit­ted to build­ing a strong model to mea­sure our re­ha­bil­i­ta­tive pro­grams con­sis­tently and to con­tinue en­hanc­ing pub­lic safety by en­sur­ing our in­mates have the skills and re­sources they need for a suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion back to their com­muni-

ties,” Wa­ters said in a writ­ten state­ment.

But the au­dit, re­quested by Assem­bly­man Reg­gie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los An­ge­les), has raised con­cerns among state law­mak­ers and crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form groups that over the last two decades have worked to shift the fo­cus of state cor­rec­tions to­ward re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. Jones-Sawyer, chair­man of the Assem­bly Pub­lic Safety Com­mit­tee, said he and other law­mak­ers are dis­cussing ways leg­isla­tive com­mit­tees could pro­vide bet­ter over­sight mov­ing for­ward and want to bring in out­side aca­demic ex­perts to improve fail­ing pro­grams.

Not all of the au­dit’s re­sults were neg­a­tive, he said, point­ing to find­ings that show some pro­grams have been suc­cess­ful, par­tic­u­larly when cou­pled with com­mu­nity-based ser­vices for in­mates upon re­lease. He said he asked Howle for the au­dit af­ter hear­ing anec­do­tal con­cerns about the shift to re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion from crit­ics of the move.

“I wanted some fact­based in­for­ma­tion on what was work­ing and what wasn’t work­ing, plus the vot­ers of Cal­i­for­nia have de­cided that we are go­ing to ex­pand money on re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion,” he said. “I just want to make sure we are do­ing it right.”

For­mer Gov. Jerry Brown ini­ti­ated ef­forts to re­shape the state’s crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem af­ter a 2011 rul­ing by the U.S. Supreme Court up­held the re­lease of some 46,000 state prison in­mates fol­low­ing years of over­crowd­ing.

In 2012, the state cor­rec­tions de­part­ment re­leased a blue­print to improve conditions and in­crease ac­cess to re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­grams. Cor­rec­tions of­fi­cials have since ex­panded cog­ni­tive be­hav­ioral ther­apy pro­grams, vo­ca­tional train­ing and ed­u­ca­tion to all 36 Cal­i­for­nia pris­ons and have seen their budget for such ini­tia­tives rise from $234 mil­lion five years ago to $298 mil­lion in the fis­cal year that ends in July, ac­cord­ing to the au­dit.

Un­der Propo­si­tion 57, which vot­ers ap­proved in 2016 to over­haul the state’s pa­role sys­tem, pris­on­ers can now re­ceive more cred­its to­ward their sen­tences for par­tic­i­pat­ing and com­plet­ing the pro­grams.

But state au­di­tors said that for years cor­rec­tions of­fi­cials have failed to prop­erly eval­u­ate whether the ini­tia­tives are work­ing. And they found a significant por­tion of pro­grams’ ar­eas of study were not based on ev­i­dence that shows they have a pos­i­tive in­flu­ence on of­fend­ers or can cut their chances of get­ting ar­rested once out of cus­tody.

The state au­dit also found cor­rec­tions of­fi­cials have not ap­pro­pri­ately placed in­mates on wait­ing lists for some classes and have failed to match oth­ers with those that best ad­dress their needs.

“Al­though [the cor­rec­tions de­part­ment] plans to co­or­di­nate with ex­ter­nal re­searchers to con­duct a per­for­mance eval­u­a­tion of the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­grams over the course of the next two years, [it] has taken no for­mal steps to ini­ti­ate this process,” the re­port found.

Lenore An­der­son, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Cal­i­for­ni­ans for Safety and Jus­tice, which ad­vo­cates po­lices to re­duce the prison pop­u­la­tion and in­crease ser­vices for in­mates, said the re­sults were not sur­pris­ing af­ter hav­ing “mul­ti­ple decades of a be­he­moth prison sys­tem de­void of a fo­cus on re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.”

But they should place new ur­gency on that fo­cus, she said.

“I am grate­ful there is this much at­ten­tion to en­sur­ing that we are reach­ing that goal,” she said. “It is a good thing that there is a mi­cro­scope on this.… What is clear to me from this re­port is that we have a long way to go.”

Not all were sat­is­fied with the find­ings. Mem­bers of com­mu­nity non­prof­its said the re­port lacked an un­der­stand­ing of their work and the strides they have made to help peo­ple ad­just to life out­side prison once re­leased.

Caitlin Dun­klee, a co­or­di­na­tor with Trans­for­ma­tive In-Prison Work­group, which rep­re­sents 35 or­ga­ni­za­tions work­ing in state pris­ons, said au­di­tors used only one marker to mea­sure suc­cess — re­cidi­vism — with­out cap­tur­ing broader so­ci­etal fail­ures. That an in­mate might re­ceive six months of sub­stance abuse classes but strug­gle to find hous­ing and re­of­fend may not in­di­cate that the classes weren’t ef­fec­tive, she said.

“We have de­mon­stra­tion of our suc­cess,” she said of the ad­vances made by the groups she rep­re­sents. “But un­for­tu­nately, it wasn’t re­flected in this au­di­tor’s re­port.”

Mark Boster Los An­ge­les Times

PRIS­ON­ERS at­tend a men­tor cer­ti­fi­ca­tion class at Solano State Prison. In­mates can earn credit to­ward their sen­tences for such pro­grams, but state au­di­tors say the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ini­tia­tives aren’t prop­erly eval­u­ated.

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