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Recidivism of Felony Offenders in California

Updated: Jun 9, 2022

California has undertaken numerous corrections reforms in the past decade. This would include public safety realignment in 2011 and Proposition 47 in 2014. The hope is to reduce the prison population, maintain public safety, and improve persistently high recidivism rates.

These quasi-reforms appear to lower incarceration levels temporarily, and in their aftermath, crime rates have fluctuated. However, the obvious problem still exists.

We at The Uncuffed Project recognize that the first 60 days are the most important to a Returned Citizen. Recidivism rates provide another important window into public safety, but not the only view.

Examination of lifer parolee recidivism rates for a fiscal year cohort that was followed for a period of three years from release to parole shows that lifer parolees receive fewer new convictions within three years of being released to parole (4.8 vs. 51.5 percent, respectively). They also have a markedly lower return to prison recidivism rate than non‐lifer parolees (13.3 vs. 65.1 percent, respectively).

For the first time in history, we at the Uncuffed Project set out to look at recidivism rates for all types of felony offenders in California from an insider's perspective, instead of an outsider's limited understanding.

Our outcomes could be tracked exclusively because we were there to assist immediately. Our unique empirical data comes from ground level representatives throughout all the counties in California. Therefore allowing us to estimate two-year recidivism rates for felony offenders released in the four years following realignment from October 2011 to October 2015.

We focus on felony offenders to provide insight into outcomes for those who have been convicted of more severe offenses.

Our analysis of recidivism relies on rearrest and reconviction rates, which are often used to capture changes in reoffending in response to a policy change. However, it is important to note that these rates may also reflect changes in the practices of criminal justice agencies.

Overall recidivism rates have declined for felony offenders. The share of felony offenders rearrested for any offense within two years declined somewhat from 68 percent to 66 percent over the four-year period. The two-year reconviction rate for any offense dropped substantially from 41 percent to 35 percent. Individuals released from prison had the highest reconviction rates.

This group also served the longest and most costly incarceration terms.

Recidivism rates are likely to be related to multiple factors. Offender behavior is one factor. But policy changes can also play a role in that they may affect the practices of criminal justice agents, such as police officers and district attorneys.

The Uncuffed Project has been able to pinpoint the relevant causes of changes in recidivism. A key is actually implementing the existing policies without ignoring the rules. Additional efforts to improve our understanding of the relationships among policy, implementation, and recidivism outcomes are essential to move the state toward a more evidence-based criminal justice system.

Facilitating better data connections across correctional institutions, intervention programs, and law enforcement would help further the state’s goals of improving public safety, reducing costs, and ensuring equity in its correctional systems.

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