As noted in an earlier post, realignment is a major reform of California's sentencing and corrections system that some conservative critics claim will unleash crime in local communities. We noted then and repeat here that concerned people should wait to see what research says before jumping to conclusions.
The latest CJCJ report finds no relationship between realignment and crime trends. Take this link to the study.
Now the Office of Research of CDCR has conducted a study of the effects of realignment: Realignment Report A One-year Examination of Offenders Released from State Prison in the First Six Months of Public Safety Realignment, dated May 2013. This is significant because, as stated earlier, no money was set aside for external evaluation of realignment as a part of this legislation. This means that the agency (CDCR) that can not remain neutral with respect to the issues involved has conducted its own study on how realignment is working. This points to a common issue in evaluation research: the fact that an agency with a stake in an implied or actual stake in an outcome is responsible for or contributes to research on whether a program or policy change in question is effective.
Fortunately, the CDCR report is not written in an obviously biased manner, that is, with a particular agenda. It is not clear exactly how the study was done in all the details but the basic design attempted to compare the recidivism outcomes of realignment releasees during the first six months of realignment compared to inmates who would have been released the year prior had alignment existed at that time--a basic pre-post research design. The exact determination of who qualified as a pre period releasee is not entirely clear but for the sake of discussion I will assume that these cases were easy to identify. (In past studies of this kind, such as the evaluation of Probation Subsidy, a major challenge was to identify felony releasees who were only released because of Probation Subsidy and not some other reason.)
Like all good evaluation studies, the CDCR researchers had multiple outcomes. The most dramatic finding is the relatively low return to prison rates of post alignment releasees, which was the intended effect of realignment, as the report notes. Dan Glaser once referred to new court-ordered felony commitments as one of the strongest measures we have of the effectiveness of prison. For post-alignment felons, this rate ranged from 7.2-7.8 percent over the six month followup. This compares to 33.8 - 47.0 percent for pre-alignment felons. In other words, far, far fewer of the felons sent back to local communities as a result of realignment are returned to prison for new offenses. Interestingly, pre-alignment felons were most often returned to prison for parole violations--something post-alignment felons did not experience thanks to realignment. The other, remaining, outcomes of the study are challenging to interpret. The two groups' arrest and conviction rates appear to be basically the same but differences begin to appear where the administrative role of parole in the criminal justice processing of offenders can directly affect outcomes, making it difficult to interpret some of the findings.
The short term findings of the CDCR study are tentative and preliminary, but thus far there is no damning criticism of realignment contained in these data. Quite the contrary, these two studies, viewed together or separately, suggest that alignment appears to be doing what it was supposed to do: give local officials control over how to manage their own offenders and reducing the churning and high rates of return to prison that flow from the existing parole reentry system of CDCR.
This entry has been updated. 3.9.16
The most recent report about the state of realignment in California comes from the Public Policy Institute, which summarizes their latest findings (at this link):
" The county jail population did not rise nearly as much as the prison population fell, reducing the total number of people incarcerated in California. Realignment did not increase violent crime, but auto thefts rose. Research so far shows no dramatic change in recidivism rates. State corrections spending remains high, but there is reason to believe expenditures could drop in the future.
"Realignment has largely been successful, but the state and county correctional systems face significant challenges. The state needs to regain control of prison medical care, which is now in the hands of a federal receiver. And the state and counties together must make progress in reducing stubbornly high recidivism rates. "