California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reports its three-year recidivism rate has gone down to around 50 percent. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But a close look at the changes in the criminal codes and laws affecting recidivism over the last several years helps us to more clearly understand what’s really happening.
Realignment (AB109) enacted along with trailer bill AB117 by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011 consigned nonserious, nonsexual, nonviolent crimes to county jurisdiction, wiping its hands of them. It so happens that such lower-level crimes have the highest recidivism rates. In consigning such crimes to county jurisdictions, it removes them from state responsibility and accounting. The state retained control of serious, sexual and violent criminals committing serious, sexual and violent crimes which have significantly lower recidivism rates.
By changing several criminal codes with a stroke of his pen, Brown slashed state recidivism rates to what should have been far less than 50 percent, while up and down the state, counties’ local recidivism rates shot through the roof. In actuality, the state’s recid rate is worse than before. State statistical reports indicate that before 2011, the more serious criminals recidivated far less than 50 percent, while the lesser criminals reoffended far more than the combined 67 percent recid rates for the then-average of 67 percent. Break out the triple-non criminals’ far higher recid rate from the combined rate, and the current state rate should be way below 50 percent. But it’s not.
Upshot? Recidivism is worse than before for both groups of criminals: The triple-nons in county jurisdiction and those kept in state jurisdiction. Yet we find the state reporting that recidivism has gone down when a closer look shows it’s gone up. Check it out for yourself. But do it carefully; you have to know which tables to look at — both state and county.
To report that recidivism’s gone down when it hasn’t is a bit like being taken in in a game of three-cup-shuffle. Following the ball seems like it should be easy, but the ball disappears from the table like local recidivism numbers disappear from the state recid tables. The crime rates don’t change; the tables on which they appear do. Simple as that. One rate goes down, the other shoots up. No net change.
Ask Sheriff Youngblood and Chief Martin what’s happening locally: increasing crime. Ask our local residents what’s happening: increasing crime. Ask the state: reoffending’s going down.
So how is crime going up? Is a new crop of offenders sprouting up? Perhaps. Both triple-nons and their young guns have learned that petty crime is rarely if ever punished. So why not offend and reoffend? When post-release supervision shifted under realignment and Proposition 47 from state to county, offenders found themselves free to reoffend with virtual impunity. County probation offices and officers were overwhelmed with state referrals of paroling triple-nons. No one could keep up. Local jail cells quickly filled with reoffenders, and re-arrests of necessity became catch and release.
Money promised by the state to ease county crime loads and criminal processing was glacially slow in coming (took years to fully get here). Jail crime and jail violence ticked up as pseudo triple-nons became local jail shot-callers. (A pseudo triple-non is an offender with a serious or violent crime in his past — perhaps many — but whose most recent and committing offense was a triple-non earning him an early Realignment/Prop. 47 county-supervised release.)
A re-offense by a county reoffender would result in jail re-incarceration for weeks, days or mere hours, whereas if that same reoffender for the same re-offense were under state non-realigned parole supervision, he would have faced years behind bars. Offenders found they could game the system, sin and sin again without consequence or cost to themselves.
Not infrequently, an older, more experienced shot-caller would deliberately commit a new triple-non crime (what’s one more tick on a rap sheet of 50?) in order to go to jail to recruit and indoctrinate new gang members into his homie gang. His sentence would be light, and he’d be out in no time with a regiment of newly minted bangers.
As intended, realignment et al has reduced prison overcrowding. Yes, but, at what cost to us all.
Dr. Brik McDill of Bakersfield is a retired prison psychologist.