October 9, 2007

Experiment aims to cut recidivism through reducing parole

One of the inmates I evaluated at San Quentin today had violated parole by missing a counseling appointment. The other had tried to beat a urinalysis after drinking alcohol on his birthday. Every day, busloads of "technical violators" like these two young men are dumped off at California prisons, giving the state the highest recidivism rate in the United States. Within three years of release, two-thirds of California parolees are back behind bars; that's twice the national average.

One method of reducing recidivism that is currently under consideration is to eliminate parole for all except the most dangerous of released prisoners. It's been done in other states and, counterintuitively, it may make the public safer. That's because limited resources can be targeted toward identifying and supervising the few very dangerous ex-prisoners.

Parole agents in two Southern California counties will be testing this idea starting next month. If it works, the changes may be implemented statewide next year.

Joan Petersilia, the UC Irvine criminology professor who chaired the governor's Rehabilitation Strike Team, explains the current situation and the need for reform in an op-ed in today’s Los Angeles Times.