Recidivism rates remain high for younger offenders
(Calif.) Overall, fewer offenders are returning to prison within three years, but recidivism rates for California’s younger inmates remains high with almost half behind bars again after just one year, according to new state figures.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation annual recidivism report released last week found that while the rate for all offenders decreased this year—from more than 54 percent in 2015 to almost 45 percent now—those age 18-19 reoffended 59 percent of the time, despite accounting for less than 1 percent of inmates released.
“The data that young people are the highest recidivating group is consistent with what we know about them and prisons—that young people are among the most vulnerable in lockup and face higher rates of physical and sexual victimization and trauma, which can contribute to recidivisim,” said Patricia Soung, senior staff attorney and policy associate at Children’s Defense Fund–California. “And that those ages cover critical years of growth and development, according to developmental and brain science, that are not served well in prison.”
Recidivism is defined as the conviction of a new felony or misdemeanor committed within three years of release from custody or committed within three years of placement on supervision for a previous criminal conviction.
According to the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, many who enter the system as juveniles are functionally illiterate, reading at or below the fourth-grade level, and are often still behind upon their release. Approximately 66 percent nationwide do not return to school after they are released.
Additionally, more than one-third of young people entering the juvenile justice system have learning and other disabilities, and between 30 percent and 40 percent are English learners, according to the Los Angeles County Office of Education.
Prompted by the poor results of students in the juvenile justice system, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance in 2014 aimed at providing quality education in secure juvenile detention facilities in order to assure they will not be released as far behind academically.
And yet, those released at 18 or 19 years old return to prison at a rate nearly 10 percent higher than the next highest age range—ages 20-24, according to the CDCR’s most recent report.
The state has increased efforts to assess the needs of offenders to inform services and treatment in areas such as substance abuse, criminal thinking and education through the automated Correctional Offender Management and Profiling for Alternative Sanctions tool.
In some cases, counselors are able to help young offenders get back on track academically while they are incarcerated.
In one success story, Shawn, now 18, whose last name was not included because he was a minor when convicted, said counselors helped him change his way of thinking, which has since led to his graduating from one of Sacramento’s schools for at-risk youth.
“When I got into the juvenile system, I didn’t really have any type of school knowledge or anything—I had dropped out, and I wasn’t even planning on going back to school or anything,” Shawn said. “But while I was incarcerated, and once I got out, reality just sort of hit me that I was going to have make better choices in order to make things go the way I wanted them to and to be successful.”
Lawmakers have pushed for smoother transitions for those exiting prison and returning to school. In 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill mandating that any student who has had contact with the justice system be allowed to enroll in a public school even if he or she could not produce records typically required for enrollment and regardless of any outstanding fees, fines or missing textbooks.
Some students still face issues regarding credit transfer and enrollment policies which keep them from transitioning from court schools into traditional classrooms in a timely manner.
However, this is the fifth consecutive year the three‐year return‐to‐prison rate has declined and is the largest decrease to‐date. Officials for the corrections department say that, overall, the numbers show that efforts to rehabilitate inmates are helping to decrease recidivism across the state.
“Most offenders sent to prison are eventually released, and so rehabilitation is in everyone’s best interest – our staff, the inmates and the community at large,” Scott Kernan, CDCR secretary, said in a statement. “The latest recidivism rate shows that we’re helping more inmates learn how to live a law-abiding, productive life.”