Although the number of inmates housed in state prisons has decreased in recent years, recidivism rates for inmates in California have remained stubbornly high, averaging around 50 percent over the past decade. The State defines recidivism as when a person is convicted of a subsequent crime within three years of being released from custody. Research shows that rehabilitation programs can reduce recidivism by changing inmates' behavior based on their individual needs and risks. For example, inmates are more likely to recidivate if they have drug abuse problems, have trouble keeping steady employment, or are illiterate. Rehabilitation programs aim to address and mitigate those challenges. In 2012 the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (Corrections) released a report, commonly known as the blueprint, that set a number of goals, including increasing access to rehabilitation programs.1 Since 2012 Corrections has expanded cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), vocational education, and academic education to all of its 36 prisons, including a corresponding increase in its budget for in‑prison rehabilitation programs, from $234 million in fiscal year 2013–14 to $298 million in fiscal year 2018–19. Corrections has also begun administering the tools it uses to assess rehabilitative needs for a greater number of inmates, and has created ways to better ensure its CBT vendors are providing services consistently and efficiently. However, since this expansion, Corrections has not undertaken sufficient effort to determine whether these programs are effective at reducing recidivism.
Corrections' Implementation of Certain Rehabilitation Programs Has Not Resulted in Demonstrable Reductions in Recidivism
Our analysis of inmates released from prison in fiscal year 2015–16 did not find an overall relationship between inmates completing CBT rehabilitation programs and their recidivism rates. In fact, inmates who completed their recommended CBT rehabilitation programs recidivated at about the same rate as inmates who were not assigned to those rehabilitation programs. One potential reason why our overall analysis did not find that CBT rehabilitation programs are related to reductions in recidivism is that Corrections has not revalidated the accuracy of the tools it uses to assess inmates' rehabilitative needs since recent statutory changes caused a major shift in the State's prison population. Another potential reason is that Corrections has not ensured that vendors provide consistent and effective CBT programs that have been proven through research to reduce recidivism—otherwise known as evidence based. Specifically, we reviewed contracts for vendors that provided CBT classes at 10 of Corrections' 36 prisons and found that nearly 20 percent of their respective curricula were not evidence based.
Corrections Is Failing to Place Inmates Into Appropriate Rehabilitation Programs, Leading to Inmates Being Released From Prison Without Having Any of Their Rehabilitation Needs Met.
Corrections has neither consistently placed inmates on waiting lists for needed rehabilitation programs nor prioritized those with the highest need correctly. This has contributed to Corrections' failure to meet any of the rehabilitative needs for 62 percent of the inmates released in fiscal year 2017–18 who had been assessed as at risk of recidivating. One reason inmates may not be receiving needed rehabilitation programs is that Corrections is having difficulty fully staffing its vocational and academic rehabilitation programs at all of its prisons. These various issues have resulted in low inmate enrollment rates when compared to the programs' budgeted capacity at the three prisons we reviewed.
Corrections has neither developed any performance measures for its rehabilitation programs, such as a target reduction in recidivism, nor has it assessed program cost‑effectiveness. Further, Corrections has not analyzed whether its rehabilitation programs reduce recidivism. To perform such an analysis, Corrections needs more time to collect data and take steps to ensure that it delivers CBT programs as intended across all of its facilities. Although the Office of the Inspector General and the California Rehabilitation Oversight Board (C-ROB) perform some limited oversight of Corrections' rehabilitation programs, neither is well suited to conduct the analysis needed to determine whether those programs are effective at reducing recidivism or are cost‑effective. Although Corrections plans to coordinate with external researchers to conduct a performance evaluation of the rehabilitation programs over the course of the next two years, Corrections has taken no formal steps to initiate this process. Because the Legislature provided Corrections with a significant budget increase so that it could expand rehabilitation programs to all prisons in the State, it is vital that Corrections demonstrate that the additional investment was worthwhile.
Summary of Recommendations
To ensure that Corrections' rehabilitation programs reduce recidivism, the Legislature should require Corrections to establish performance targets, including ones for reducing recidivism and determining the programs' cost‑effectiveness, and to partner with external researchers to evaluate the effectiveness of its rehabilitation programs.
To ensure that Corrections has reliable tools for assessing the needs of its inmate population, it should validate its assessment tools.
To ensure that its CBT classes are effective at reducing recidivism, Corrections should provide adequate oversight to ensure that its vendors teach only evidence‑based curricula.
To ensure that it can meet the rehabilitation needs of its inmates, Corrections should develop and begin implementing plans to meet its staffing‑level goals for rehabilitative programming.
To ensure that Corrections effectively and efficiently allocates resources to reduce recidivism, it should partner with a research organization to conduct a systematic evaluation to determine whether its rehabilitation programs are reducing recidivism and if they are cost‑effective.
Corrections agrees with our findings and will address the specific recommendations in a corrective action plan within the timelines outlined in the audit report. C-ROB and the California Prison Industry Authority also agreed with our recommendations.
1 Corrections first released The Future of California: A Blueprint to Save Billions of Dollars, End Federal Oversight, and Improve the Prison System in 2012, and updated it in 2016. Go back to text