Editorial: Why isn't state tracking rates of recidivism?

Published: Thursday, Apr. 25, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 12A

After a year-and-a-half under public safety realignment, counties are deep into preparing plans for 2013-14. Have they done better than the state in reducing re-offense rates for those convicted of nonviolent, nonserious, non-sex offenses?

The jury is still out, primarily because legislators and the governor failed to include statewide collection of data. That needs to change.

The new Board of State and Community Corrections, Chief Probation Officers of California, Administrative Office of the Courts and California State Sheriffs' Association each voluntarily collect some data, but there is no uniform statewide monitoring of recidivism.

Counties also are at varying levels of accepting responsibility for reducing recidivism. In the first year of realignment, the average county allocated 35 percent to the sheriff's department, primarily for jails, and 34 percent to probation, primarily for supervision. That left little for community organizations providing treatment or job training.

Sacramento County's first plan allocated 69 percent of funds to the sheriff and 29 percent to the Probation Department. Fortunately, Sacramento is among counties realizing that the seven-member committee that makes recommendations on realignment does not have budget authority. Sacramento County's legal counsel made that clear at Tuesday's meeting. The board ratified that understanding with a formal resolution.

That means that the committee's recommendation for a 2013-14 allocation giving 67 percent of $28 million to the sheriff and 29 percent to probation is a "framework" for implementing realignment, with the board having final authority as it sets its overall budget.

This is progress. But some board members continue to spread misinformation. Supervisor Susan Peters claimed at a Tuesday forum in Carmichael that the state's shift of responsibility to counties for newly convicted low-level offenders without current or prior serious or violent offenses "refers only to the last crime committed." Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan noted that some convicts sentenced to the county had previous arrests for carjacking, robbery and other violent offenses. Both failed to note that arrests are not convictions.

The dirty little secret is that counties are reaping the consequences of their past practices. Instead of pursuing criminal convictions, too often counties opted to administratively send parolees back to state prison for three to four months for breaking the rules of parole (failing a drug test, not reporting on schedule or not attending treatment programs).

Residents should be asking, why didn't the county prosecute them for those serious violent crimes? Why did they pursue only a technical violation, with a short stay in state prison, instead of a criminal conviction with a new sentence? Under realignment, counties must take responsibility when parolees break rules – or pursue a criminal conviction, as it should be.

Californians should insist that lawmakers require uniform statewide collection of data. That's the only way for voters to see if realignment is working and to hold county officials accountable for reducing recidivism.

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