Capitol Alert

California AG Kamala Harris weighs in on ‘recidivism’ debate

bnguyen@sacbee.com

Attorney General Kamala Harris has weighed in on a debate among politicians and law enforcement officials with her own proposal about measuring “recidivism” – re-offending by those who’ve already been through the criminal justice system.

Her definition conflicts with one developed by the Board of State and Community Corrections, but she says she hopes for a reconciliation of the two.

The Legislature has decreed that a statewide definition of recidivism be adopted so that the effects of the state’s far-reaching “realignment” program can be gauged.

Under realignment, overcrowding in state prisons is being reduced under federal court order by diverting those deemed to be guilty of non-violent, non-sexual and/or non-serious felonies from prison commitments into local jails and probation systems.

Local authorities are supposed to adopt programs that reduce recidivism, such as drug and employment counseling, as part of their new responsibility for low-level felons.

Last month, the Board of State and Community Corrections released a final draft of its definition that would, in application, produce relatively low statistical levels of recidivism. It has planned to adopt the definition as the only one recognized in law next month.

Its definition would be “conviction of a new felony or misdemeanor within three years of release from custody or committed within three years of placement on supervision for a previous criminal conviction.”

However, in a letter to other law enforcement officials throughout the state, Harris proposes a definition that’s a bit looser that the board’s and, if adopted, probably would generate higher rates of recidivism because it would not require a felon to be convicted of a new crime to be counted as a recidivist.

Her definition: “An arrest resulting in a charge filed by a prosecutor within three years of an individual’s release from incarceration or placement on supervision for a previous criminal conviction.”

Harris said the definition was developed after months of studies of locally used definitions and consultations with others in the law enforcement community.

“Universally defining recidivism is a fundamentally important issue if we are to be smart on crime,” Harris said in her letter, adding, “California lacks any uniform or standard way to measure the rate of individuals who re-commit crimes.”

Harris also said her Department of Justice has created a “standardized tool for counties to track recidivism in their jurisdictions” called the California Recidivism Index.

Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/walters. Follow him on Twitter

@WaltersBee.

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