Monday, September 17, 2007

Parole Reform Increases Supervision of Serious Offenders; Adds Evidence-Based Screening to Reduce Recidivism

Earned Discharge Provides Incentives for Parolees to Rehabilitate

SACRAMENTO-Today the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) announced changes to parole regulations that will enable parole agents to focus more resources on high-risk parolees that are most likely to commit new crimes. Low-level, non-violent parolees that are least likely to commit new crimes will be eligible to earn discharge from parole after six months if they meet strict guidelines. These new regulations were developed in consultation with national experts, and are modeled after evidence-based practices proven successful in reducing recidivism in 33 other states.

The regulations give parole agents a new, powerful and science-based tool to evaluate parolees and focus on those most likely to recidivate. Sex offenders, gang members and other serious, violent or high-risk offenders are ineligible for discharge under these reforms. Additionally, allowing low-risk offenders to earn discharge from parole by completing rehabilitation, education and job training programs creates an incentive for inmates to participate in rehabilitation programs, which in turn reduces recidivism.

Upon approval by the Board of Parole Hearings, the regulations will be put into effect as soon as November. A parole district in south Orange County is the first district equipped to start implementing these regulations. The remaining 23 districts will be brought online within 90 days following analysis of the Orange County program. CDCR will work with Orange County, and local law enforcement to evaluate the effectiveness of this program.

In California, approximately 120,000 inmates are released each year from state prisons. Every offender, regardless of commitment offense or posed risk, is required to report to CDCR’s Division of Adult Parole Operations (DAPO) for a statutorily required period of parole, a practice unique to California and Illinois. Estimates suggest that within the first three years after release, 65-70 percent of offenders violate the terms of their parole or commit a new crime. In 2006, 68,000 parolees were returned to prison for violations of their imposed conditions of parole serving an average four month period of revocation.

“Studies and experts have repeatedly shown that ineffective parole policies in California contribute to our state having some of the highest recidivism rates in the country, which significantly contributes to the crisis-level overcrowding in our prisons,” said CDCR Secretary James Tilton. “By using evidence-based screening strategies we will increase supervision of serious offenders on parole, and not waste resources on those least likely to re-offend.”

“Removing low risk parolees demonstrating good behavior from the overburdened caseloads of parole agents will free them to keep a closer eye on the more serious threats to commit new crimes in our communities,” said Tom Hoffman, Director of the Division of Adult Parole Operations. “With our agents actively enforcing Jessica’s Law and monitoring serious and violent parolees, it is imperative that we maximize our resources in the interest of public safety.”

The earned discharge strategy is an evidence-based practice that has been shown in numerous studies to reduce recidivism and the commission of new crimes by parolees. This policy was one of the recommendations submitted to the Governor by the Expert Panel Report [Page 13] in July 2007. It was also included in the report submitted to the state by the California Independent Review Committee of 2004, chaired by Governor Deukmejian [recommendation #30 in the Inmate and Parolee Population Management Section of the Independent Review Panel], which recommended: “Discharge parolees who are determined to be very low risk from parole three months after they are released from prison." Other reports by the Little Hoover Commission (1994 and 2006), and on numerous occasions by Dr. Joan Petersilia, have also recommended earned discharge.

“Recidivism studies have consistently shown that inmates who are going to return to crime do so quickly. By reallocating scarce parole resources away from those who have demonstrated they don’t need the services and the surveillance, it will allow agents to focus on those who pose a higher risk,” said Dr. Joan Petersilia, co-chair of the 2007 Expert Panel and Director of Parole Reform for Governor Schwarzenegger’s Strike Team. “By rewarding participation in work, education, and substance abuse programs we will motivate parolees to complete rehabilitation programs as an incentive to earn their way off of parole. Research tells us that by implementing earned discharge in California we can replicate many of the positive results experienced by other states.”

Research suggests that during the first 180 days of release parolees have the highest recidivism and technical violation rates. By focusing parole services and supervision on these initial days of release, recidivism and return-to-custody rates are expected to significantly decline. The earned discharge regulations will also allow parole agent resources to be more effectively reallocated to concentrate supervision on more serious violators for longer periods.

Earned Discharge Parole Policy Process: The new regulations will be initially implemented in one south Orange County parole district. This will allow CDCR and the Governor’s rehabilitation strike team to closely evaluate its impact prior to a statewide rollout.

Under these regulatory changes, select parolees who are violation-free and have been reviewed for risks and needs assessments may be recommended for earned discharge after six months of good behavior, based on a number of criteria. Those inmates considered for earned discharge will be reviewed in a four step process.

Step 1: The two lowest-risk levels of active parolees, those classified as minimum supervision and controlled service, will be reviewed for referral to Step 2. As of Sept. 4, 2007, there were 27,851 cases classified as minimum supervision, and 58,694 cases classified as requiring controlled service. Offenders who are excluded from consideration for earned discharge include:

  • Registered sex offenders;
  • Parolees whose current commitment offense is either serious or violent;
  • Parolees who have been on active parole for a period of six months or longer who committed violations based on CalParole and/or the Revocation Scheduling Tracking System (RSTS), or broke the terms of their parole; and,
  • Parolees currently assigned to the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), state mental hospitals, and few select others.
Step 2: All eligible Step 1 cases will undergo an additional risk assessment to identify further exclusionary criteria which may prohibit them from being referred to Step 3. These criteria include:

  • Parole violations not captured in CalParole/RSTS;
  • Prior convictions for serious and violent crimes;
  • Active cases in local custody and not in revocation status;
  • Gang affiliations;
  • Any other identified exclusionary factors as determined by CDCR.
Step 3: All remaining cases will be referred to the respective parole unit for final review. During this review the agent of record, unit supervisor and district administrator will review the parolees’ documents. In addition to the findings of the assessment tools, parole officers will also consider such factors as whether the parolee:

  • Has a stable residence;
  • Has employment or a dependable means of ongoing financial support;
  • Has a history of successful completion of an educational, vocational or community service programs; and,
  • Has demonstrated compliance with victim restitution orders. These and other factors may be considered as supportive evidence of appropriateness for consideration for earned discharge.
Step 4: Those control service cases and minimum supervision cases that have been violation free for six months, and are not removed based on exclusionary criteria in the above steps, will be recommended for earned discharge – unless parole officers at the unit, supervisor, and district administrator levels concur that the parolee represents a continued threat to public safety that warrants continued supervision. All recommendations for earned discharge prior to the completion of 12 months of continuous parole will then also be submitted to the Board of Parole Hearings for consideration and final approval.

Broader Parole Reforms: Earned discharge is one component of a package of parole reforms that CDCR is in the process of undertaking as part of a broader overall strategy to realign resources with risk. In addition to earned discharge, this strategy also includes:

  • Providing better inmate transitions from prison to parole through secure community reentry facilities;
  • Ensuring better coordination with crime victims before the release of their offenders;
  • Restructuring parole supervision using risk assessments to better identify high and low-risk parolees for caseload placements; and,
  • Developing a decision making matrix to be used in assessing when to revoke parolees, as well as alternative sanctions to prison, such as drug treatment beds, and others.
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