A Stanford University study of the corrections department’s rehabilitation and reentry program shows it should be expanded.
By Garrett Jensen, Special to CalMatters
Garrett Jensen is a graduate of Stanford University’s Public Policy Program and co-author of the study on the Male Community Reentry Program, firstname.lastname@example.org.
California’s bet on transitional rehabilitation programs is novel, and recent evidence suggests it is paying off.
Based on a Stanford University study of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Male Community Reentry Program, we know rehabilitation works. The best budget move would be to extend and expand the program to reduce recidivism and save money. Not to mention, it gives other states a model to replicate.
In the past 15 years, the California justice system’s long-standing punitive response to crime has shifted to be more focused on rehabilitation. Much of this progress must be attributed to the tireless efforts of justice organizations and activists. Despite these decreases in the prison population and incarceration rates, recidivism rates have remained steady, hovering at about 50% over the past decade.
This past year, challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the early release of 30,000 lower-risk, incarcerated people. As of July 2021, the prison population has shrunk to 99,000, the smallest it has been in more than 30 years. With so many previously incarcerated individuals released in the past year, recidivism or revisit rates are a primary concern.
As of 2020, about 46% of offenders released in California are reconvicted within three years of release and even more are rearrested. Recidivism reduction is a critical objective for corrections departments, as every curtailed crime equates to reduced victimization.
Recidivism also negatively impacts the lives of offenders and their families. Not to mention, its financial burden on the state – and taxpayers – are dire. The exorbitant cost of incarceration, largely driven by employee salaries, benefits and pension liabilities, is now more than $100,000 per inmate per year. In contrast, time spent in the Male Community Reentry Program is half of that.
In 2004, with the addition of the rehabilitation ‘R’ in CDCR and the will of California voters on numerous criminal justice propositions, bolstered by many advocates and legislators, the corrections department significantly expanded its programmatic offerings in the attempt to reduce recidivism.
The Male Community Reentry Program, launched in 2015 moves incarcerated men from their remote institutions to a community-based program location in their county of release. They serve the remainder of their sentences (up to 15 months pre-release) directly in the community and are provided with extensive social services, education and secure communal housing with other participants.
The primary goal of the program is to help incarcerated individuals develop and access the necessary skills, tools and resources to successfully transition back into the community. Implicit in this goal of successful reintegration is that participating in this program will reduce the likelihood of reoffense, rearrest and reconviction.
Unfortunately, there is little existing evidence whether the Male Community Reentry Program and programs like it actually have an effect on recidivism. However, recent research conducted in partnership between Stanford University and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation examined the effect of the program. The study compares the 1-year recidivism outcomes of inmates who participated in the program relative to similar inmates who were approved for the program, but were released before they had the chance to participate.
The results indicate that, for offenders who participated in the program for at least seven months, the Male Community Reentry Program decreased the likelihood of rearrest (1 year post-release) by 8 percentage points. For offenders who participated in the program for at least nine months, the program decreased the likelihood of rearrest (1 year post-release) by 13 percentage points and reconviction by 11 percentage points.
The Male Community Reentry Program demonstrates success at reducing recidivism when participation is at least seven months. Therefore, the research suggests that the corrections department should extend participant’s duration.
If, after continued monitoring, the program continues to reduce recidivism among participants, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation should also consider expanding the program to other locations. Finally, other state corrections departments and elected officials should consider adapting and implementing the Male Community Reentry Program in their own states as a strategy for reducing recidivism.
Garrett Jensen has also written about rejected mail-in ballots in California’s March 2020 primary.