Editorial: Realignment hasn’t caused a crime wave

Posted by Steven Fabian, Sonoma County Criminal Defense Lawyer

By the Editorial Board, Sacramento Bee

What happens to offenders who finish a state prison term? Unless they have a life-without-parole sentence, they all eventually go home. They get $200 in “gate money” and have to find jobs and housing. They also are supervised for three years. Unfortunately, during that supervision period in the past, more than two-thirds ended up back in state prison, a dismal success rate.

California’s Public Safety Realignment Act of 2011 changed post-prison supervision. Under the realignment law, state parole officers continue to supervise those finishing up prison terms for a current serious, violent or sex crime. But since October 2011, counties have supervised the rest through their probation departments.

So is the new post-prison supervision system doing any better in breaking the cycle of recidivism?

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has just released its first report comparing the rates of arrest, conviction and returns to state prison for those who completed their state prison term in the first six months of realignment with those released one year earlier.

The early good news is that California is not undergoing some new massive crime wave because of the change in who supervises offenders finishing their prison terms. Now the overriding issue for counties and the state should be how to reduce recidivism rates.

In the first six months of realignment, arrest rates are down slightly from the pre-realignment period and conviction rates are slightly up, as expected. The realignment law virtually eliminated administrative returns to state prison for those who violated parole (such as by failing a drug test or missing an appointment), which had been a major cause of prison overcrowding. Now that counties have to deal with parole violators, they are more likely to charge and prosecute those who commit crimes. That’s a good thing, showing that realignment is working as intended.

In the first six months of realignment, of those who had finished their prison terms, 59 percent had been arrested within their first year out and 23 percent were convicted of new crimes. Pre-realignment, 62 percent were arrested within their first year out and 21 percent were convicted of new crimes. So far, realignment has changed very little – resulting neither in a crime wave nor a major reduction in crime.

Over time, however, realignment should improve the recidivism picture.

The report points to the key driver of reoffense rates, something everyone in the law enforcement community has known for a long, long time: The most common arrests and convictions for people returning home after serving time in prison are for drug and property crimes. Those who have a drug habit are less employable and they resort to property crime to feed their addiction.

The takeaway from the CDCR report should be that the public and leaders at all levels of government should get past doomsday rhetoric about realignment and work with counties to attack the link between drugs and crime. Simply jailing these folks, over and over and over again, will not solve the problem.

READ THE REPORT ONLINE: Realignment Report: A One-Year Examination of Offenders Released From State Prison…

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