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Fewer ex-cons return to prison but crime rates stay steady

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POSTED July 8, 2015 8:43 p.m.

SACRAMENTO (AP) — Ex-felons in California are committing new crimes at a relatively steady rate compared with previous years, but more of them are going to county jails instead of state prisons as a 2011 state law intended they should, according to a report released Wednesday.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said 54 percent of felons were back behind prison walls within three years. That’s down from 61 percent a year ago and down from a high of 67.5 percent for inmates released from prison a decade ago, when California had one of the nation’s highest recidivism rates.

Arrests of ex-felons ticked up 2 percentage points and convictions 3 percentage points in their first year of release, the period covered under Gov. Jerry Brown’s realignment law, which took effect in 2011 and keeps lower-level offenders and most parole violators in county jails. Twenty-four percent were convicted of a new crime and 58.5 percent arrested in that first year.

Part of that is likely due to prosecutors charging more parolees with new crimes instead of relying on parole violations to send offenders to jail for relatively brief periods, said Public Policy Institute of California researcher Magnus Lofstrom, who studies the trends.

“I don’t think that there’s any strong evidence that realignment is worsening the reoffending (rate),” he said.

Arrests declined slightly and convictions increased by less than half a percentage point over the full three-year period that nearly 105,000 parolees released between July 2009 and June 2010 were tracked.

Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton said one desired effect from the 4-year-old law was to reduce the number of parole violators who churn through repeated prison terms so quickly that they cannot take advantage of rehabilitation programs.

The department also credited increased substance abuse treatment. Offenders who received treatment in prison and after their release returned to prison 21 percent of the time.

California also releases parolees from supervision more quickly, meaning fewer are subject to incarceration for parole violations.

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