California Report: Decrease in Recidivism Rates Amid COVID-19 Pandemic and Criminal Justice Reform Efforts

Photo by AJ Colores on Unsplash

By Jenna Tooley

SACRAMENTO, CA – California’s criminal justice reforms are having a positive impact, according to the latest state recidivism report that reveals fewer individuals released from prison are reoffending, setting a record low, according to a recent publication by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

The report notes the recidivism rate for individuals released in “fiscal year 2018-19 decreased by 2.7 percent compared to the previous year, now standing at 41.9 percent…lowest since reporting began.”

As defined by the CDCR report, recidivism rates are developed over a three-year follow-up period and analyze a cohort’s arrests, convictions and returns to prison.

The latest report by the CDCR scrutinizes data from 36,086 individuals released in fiscal year 2018-19, offering insights into offender demographics and characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, offense type, and prior incarcerations, the state claims.

As stated in the CDCR report, “58.1 percent of the release cohort (20,957 individuals) had no convictions within three years of their release from prison, 20.9 percent (7,525 individuals) were convicted of a felony offense and 21.1 percent (7,604 individuals) were convicted of a misdemeanor offense.”

Arrests and returns to prison, which are substantial measures of recidivism, “saw decreases between the FY 2017-18 and 2018-19 release cohorts…the three-year arrest rate decreased by 1.7 percentage points (from 68.4 percent to 66.7 percent), and the three-year return-to prison rate decreased by 3.0 percentage points (from 19.8 percent to 16.8 percent),” the CDCR recidivism report states.

The state added the three-year arrest rate is at its lowest point since the reporting began. Overall, arrest and conviction rates have been relatively stable with small fluctuations over time.

Also noted in the CDCR recidivism report, “less than half (49.7 percent) of the 15,129 total convictions are felony convictions and 50.3 percent are misdemeanor convictions. The largest percentage of those with a conviction (19.7 percent or 2,986 individuals) were convicted of misdemeanor drug/alcohol crimes, followed by felony crimes against persons (16.3 percent or 2,462 individuals).”

The CDCR maintains, “The percentage of convictions for misdemeanor drug/alcohol crimes decreased by 1.9 percentage points (from 21.6 percent of all convictions to 19.7 percent) between the FY 2017-18 and 2018-19 release cohorts, the largest decrease observed between the two fiscal years.”

Individuals committed to CDCR with a violent offense have a lower three-year conviction rate (25.1 percent) than individuals with a serious offense (44.7 percent), and individuals with a non-serious/non-violent offense (48.8 percent),” said the CDCR report.

When examining the three-year conviction rate based on demographics, the report cites “the rate decreases 2.7 percentage points (from 51.5 percent to 48.8 percent) for individuals with non-serious/non-violent offenses, 3.3 percentage points (from 56.0 percent to 52.7 percent) for individuals committed for property crimes, and 3.0 percentage points (from 45.5 percent to 42.5 percent) for individuals committed for drug crimes when comparing the FY 2017-18 and 2018-19 release cohorts.”

Race/ethnicity also show declines were also documented.

According to the CDCR report, “the three-year conviction rate for each race/ethnicity category decreased between the FY 2017-18 and 2018-19 release cohorts… rate among American Indian/Alaskan Native individuals saw the greatest decrease (4.5 percentage points)…rate for Asian/Pacific Islander individuals saw the smallest decrease (1.3 percentage points). This variation is somewhat expected due to the relative size of each group, as rates associated with smaller groups of individuals are more susceptible to variation than larger group.”

The findings of the report shed light on several factors contributing to this positive trend.

According to the CDCR’s Office of Research, the COVID-19 pandemic played a significant role in reducing recidivism rates, and led to statewide changes in crime rates, court proceedings, and temporary suspensions of intakes and transfers to correctional facilities. These disruptions likely influenced all three measures of recidivism—arrests, convictions, and returns to prison.

The 2022 Crime in California Report provides important insights into statewide crime trends.

From 2017 to 2022, the property crime rate decreased by 7.1 percent as mentioned in the 2022 Crime in California Report. The homicide rate also decreased by 5.0 percent in 2022 (from 6.0 in 2021 to 5.7 in 2022), according to the 2022 Crime in California Report, which added, “The 2022 total arrest rate of 2,535.2 is 2.7 percent lower than the 2021 total arrest rate of 2,606.3.”

The 2022 Crime in California Report found shifts in sentencing and supervision patterns, with a notable decrease in the total number of adults on active probation, reaching its lowest level of 151,402 since 1980.

Despite an 11.4 percent increase in adults placed on probation for felony offenses, there’s a corresponding decrease in the number of adults removed from probation, at 9.6 percent, according to the report.

The effects of various criminal justice reform efforts have also been cited in the report as contributing factors to the decline in recidivism rates. Specifically, the recidivism report for individuals released from the CDCR highlights the effectiveness of rehabilitative programming credits in lowering recidivism rates.

According to the CDCR report, formerly incarcerated individuals released from CDCR are either released to Post-Release Community Supervision (PRCS), or parole supervision or are directly discharged. As stated in the CDCR report,

“The three-year conviction rate for individuals under PRCS decreased 2.6 percentage points between the FY 2017-18 and 2018-19 release cohorts (from 51.7 percent to 49.1 percent). This follows a decrease of 2.8 percentage points (from 54.5 percent to 51.7 percent) between the FY 2016-17 and 2017-18 release cohorts,” the report states.

These findings also held for incarcerated individuals who were under parole supervision post-conviction.

“Between the FY 2016-17 and 2017-18 release cohorts, the three-year conviction rate decreased by 2.8 percentage points (from 40.4 percent to 37.6 percent) and between FY 2017-18 and 2018-19, the rate decreased by 2.9 percentage points (from 37.6 percent to 34.7 percent),” according to the CDCR report.

Prop. 57, which was passed in 2016 and aimed to reduce overcrowding in prisons and prioritize rehabilitation over incarceration for non-violent offenders, had its second year of data showing the effects of this legislation, underscoring its potential to impact the criminal justice system in California positively, the report noted.

Based on conviction rates by Prop. 57 credit earning stated in the CDCR report, the report said, “Preliminary data for individuals with enhanced credit earnings under Prop. 57 indicate a slightly lower rate for those who earn credits: 39.2 percent for those with credits and 45.6 percent for those without.”

Prop. 47, which reduced penalties for certain non-serious, non-violent property and drug crimes, had varying effects on recidivism rates, according to the CDCR recidivism report.

While the FY 2014-15 release cohort saw increased convictions due to Prop. 47 releases, subsequent cohorts experienced fluctuations influenced by factors like the number of Prop. 47 releases and the composition of offenses. According to the CDCR report, “recent decreases in misdemeanors indicate stabilization post-Prop. 47.”

The latest publications from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the 2022 Crime in California Report highlight a significant decrease in recidivism rates, marking a positive trend in the state’s criminal justice system.

About The Author

Jenna Tooley is a third-year senior studying Political Science with a concentration in American Politics and minors in Global Studies and Public Affairs at the University of California, Los Angeles. She has a passion for social justice and advocacy work and intends on pursuing Law School in the very near future, with a potential specialization in Criminal Law in aims of dismantiling the stigma around incarcerated people and addressing the root causes of recidvism to provides incarcerated people resources and rehabilitation to independently function upon re-entry into society. Outside of her advocacy work she enjoys traveling and sightseeing, aborbing the ambiance of coffee shops, and thifting as a form of self-care.

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