The Community Corrections Program was formed in January 2010 by the Administrative Office of the Courts to manage three recent court-related initiatives. All three initiatives are designed to promote public safety by reducing recidivism among felony probationers and parolees and reducing the number of adult felony probationers and parolees sent to prison.
From 2006 to 2008, an average of 7.9 percent of the convicted felons on probation were sent to state prison each year. About 1.2 percent of these had committed a new felony, while 6.6 percent had violated the terms of their probation. In other words, of a statewide population of approximately 330,000 adult felons on probation, approximately 26,000 entered prison each year for violating probation or committing a new crime, accounting for approximately 40 percent of California's new admissions to state prisons.
It's evident from these figures that reducing the number of probation failures would benefit all parties involved: the probationers themselves, the criminal courts, and the state taxpayers who must pay the costs of incarcerating inmates. The present cost of incarcerating an inmate in a California prison is about $47,000 per year, and this cost is rising. Since fiscal year 2000–2001, the average annual cost per inmate has increased by about $19,500.
Each of the three initiatives managed by the Community Corrections Program focuses on reducing probation or parole failure in a specific manner. The first, established by the California Community Corrections Performance Incentives Act of 2009 (SB 678), creates a system of performance-based funding for county probation departments to support evidence-based practice in supervising adult felons on probation.
Evidence-based practice is currently one of the most promising reforms in state sentencing and corrections practice. For decades, conventional wisdom held that there was nothing the courts could do to reduce the rate of recidivism among probationers and parolees. Since 2000, however, new research has demonstrated that certain approaches can effectively change the behavior of offenders and significantly reduce recidivism rates. As defined in SB 678, evidence-based practices consist of “supervision policies, procedures, programs, and practices demonstrated by scientific research to reduce recidivism among individuals under probation, parole, or post-release supervision.”
SB 678 created a state fund—the State Corrections Performance Incentives Fund (SCPIF)—and authorized the state to allocate money each year from the SCPIF to a Community Corrections Performance Incentives Fund (CCPIF) established in each county. Each county must establish a local community corrections program directed by the county's chief probation officer and based on evidence-based practices. These local programs then track the success of their evidence-based programs and report the outcomes to the AOC.
If the local programs succeed in reducing the number of felony probationers sent to prison, the state saves the cost of incarcerating those offenders. The state will then share a portion of these savings with the jurisdictions that generated the savings. Using a baseline average probation failure rate from the years 2006 through 2008 for comparison, the California Department of Finance calculates the change in the annual failure rate for each county to determine which counties are eligible to receive a portion of the state savings.
Preliminary results for this incentive-based program are very encouraging. In 2010, the first year that the local community corrections programs began using evidence-based practices, 6,182 fewer adult felony probationers were sent to state prison, compared to the baseline years of 2006 through 2008. This represents a 23 percent reduction in the rate of probation failure, for a savings to the state of $179 million.
The AOC's Community Corrections Program also manages another initiative designed to reduce recidivism—this one for offenders aged 18 to 25 placed on felony probation. The California Risk Assessment Pilot Project (CalRAPP) is a joint project of the AOC and the Chief Probation Officers of California, and is funded by the National Institute of Corrections and the State Justice Institute. CalRAPP has pilot projects in four counties: Napa, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Yolo.
These pilot projects employ risk/needs assessments of probationers, a key part of evidence-based practice, in the sentencing of 18- to 25-year-old offenders. First, a needs assessment is conducted to determine the likelihood that an offender will reoffend or violate the terms of his or her probation. Certain types of needs, or risk factors, have been demonstrated to predict future criminal behavior; these needs include antisocial attitudes and associates, family dysfunction, substance abuse, and lack of employment skills. Using the needs assessment, the project then assesses the risk that the individual will revert to criminal behavior and matches the level of supervision or services that the offender receives to his or her risk level. Those offenders determined to have a higher risk of recidivism will receive more intensive supervision and services. For example, an offender with a history of substance abuse might be ordered into a closely supervised treatment program and receive frequent drug tests. The offender might also receive encouragement and other positive reinforcements for staying in the program.
The CalRAPP projects will track the rates of recidivism and revocation of probation for participating offenders for up to three years and compare them to the rates of similar offenders not participating in the project.
With an additional grant from the Public Welfare Foundation, the Community Corrections Program has organized three regional trainings for judges and probation officers to learn more about evidence-based practices and discuss implementation programs for their respective counties. The grant funds are also being used to provide trainings at individual courts.
The final initiative managed by the AOC's Community Corrections Program is the Parolee Reentry Court Pilot Program. As part of the Corrections Reform package (SB18 3X) and the Budget Act of 2009, the Legislature provided $9.5 million in federal Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant funds to be distributed over a period of three years for the establishment of up to seven reentry pilot courts in California. To date, six reentry pilot courts have been established—in Alameda, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Joaquin, and Santa Clara Counties.
With a goal of reducing recidivism and parole revocation, the pilot courts employ a collaborative model that integrates treatment and social services with enhanced judicial monitoring of parolees. Parolees with a history of mental illness or substance abuse who have broken their parole agreements may be referred to a reentry court instead of being returned to prison.
The project will be evaluated over a period of three years by comparing the revocation and reoffense rates of participants to those of similar parolees who are not participants in the program. The evaluation, conducted by the Community Corrections Program of the AOC, will also consider different models of reentry courts.
In addition to evaluating the reentry court program and organizing educational programs about evidence-based practice, the Community Corrections Program works to ensure the accuracy of the data used to determine the funding for county probation departments as authorized by SB 678. Data accuracy is critical to a fair apportionment of state funds to counties that have lowered their rate of probation failure.
The Community Corrections Program will evaluate the three initiatives and report to the Legislature and other funders regarding the effectiveness of each program approximately three years after its inception. While results for the two pilot programs are not yet available, preliminary data for the California Community Corrections Performance Incentives Act (SB 678) shows a positive impact, as mentioned earlier. Evidence-based practices, after proving effective in numerous studies nationwide, are now beginning to demonstrate positive results in California.
The results in the first year in which SB 678 was implemented coincide with systemic downward trends in crime nationally and statewide. Compared to 2009, California's 2010 arrests for violent and property crime in urban areas declined by 7 percent and 3 percent, respectively. This is in line with a 6 percent reduction in violent crimes and a 3 percent reduction in property crimes at the national level over the same period. Crime rates in both California and the nation have been steadily declining since the mid-1990s, with a decrease of approximately 5 percent each year.
Source: Administrative Office of the Courts, Community Corrections Program, SB 678 Year 1 Report: Implementation of the California Community Corrections Performance Incentive (June 8, 2011).