State auditor targets prison rehab programs

Folsom State Prison east of Sacramento. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The state auditor says the California prison system’s programs to reduce recidivism aren’t working effectively, noting that inmates who complete the programs wind up back behind bars at roughly the same rates as those who don’t.

“These results are  serious enough to highlight an urgent need for Corrections to take a more active and meaningful role in ensuring that these programs are effective,” California State Auditor Elaine Howle reported. She said “there was no overall significant connection between an inmate completing these programs and the inmate’s likelihood to recidivate.”

Howle also said the correctional system isn’t adequately riding herd on its prison counselors.

Howle said the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which runs 34 prisons housing more than 120,000 adult inmates, needs better ways of assessing the suitability of inmates for those programs, known as in-prison cognitive behavioral therapy programs, or CBT.

The need is particularly critical as the population of the prisons declined amid new laws to ease overcrowding, wrote Howle, who answers to the Legislature’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee in the Capitol.

“In particular, 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. Inaccurate assessment tools could result in placing inmates in the wrong programs or in no programs at all.”

The audit suggested that Corrections track and evaluate more closely its vendors who provide therapy program services, noting that the “formal procedures or guidelines that delineate standards” for the programs need to be reevaluated.

“Because of Corrections’ inadequate oversight of correctional counselors at individual prisons, inmates are not consistently being placed on waiting lists, and as a result, some are not getting assigned to needed programs,” the audit said.

California’s prison system spends about $300 million annually on in-prison rehabilitation programs, or about 2 percent of the entire prison budget. Separately, about 580 inmates receive vocational training through the Prison Industry Authority, which provides training in nine fields.

Recidivism numbers vary widely, depending on the reporting, but according to Howle, “the recidivism rate for inmates in California has remained stubbornly high, averaging about 50 percent from fiscal years 2002–03 through 2012–13.”

Corrections, in its own figures, said recidivism was on the decline but remained at 61 percent in 2008-09.

In its response to the audit, Corrections Secretary Ralph M. Diaz said, CDCR already is putting together an effort to “ensure that CDCR vendors are delivering treatment programming consistent with the highest likelihood for positive outcomes.”

Between 2011 and 2016, voters approved three statewide ballot measures and the Legislature approved bills that has had the ultimate effect of reducing the prison inmate population, in part resulting in a greater emphasis on rehabilitation.

Ed’s Note: Monet Muscat is a Capitol Weekly intern from the Met Sacramento High School.


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