Released from prison, returning to crime

Even under more restrictive definitions of recidivism, California DOJ stats show a high rate of return to crime by released inmates

By Robert Sass, ALADS Vice President

This article is reprinted with permission from the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS)

This past month, the United States Department of Justice released a very robust study regarding recidivism rates for state prisoners. Recidivism is denoted as a return to crime, although it is not a perfect measurement since every crime does not result in arrest. Additionally, an individual may commit multiple crimes at one time, but only one arrest is made. The headline version states that 83 percent of released inmates had been rearrested at least once in the subsequent nine years after release.

The study tracked prison inmates released in 2005; those inmates were from 30 states and accounted for 77 percent of all prisoners released that year. The study found 44 percent were re-arrested at least once in their first year of release and 68 percent re-arrested at least once within three years after release. In total, the released inmates accounted for 1,994,000 arrests in the nine-year period or approximately five re-arrests per released inmate.

While the DOJ study uses re-arrest for the definition of recidivism, California does not. In 2014, the Board of State and Community Corrections adopted a new and controversial definition of recidivism only to include instances where a person is convicted of a new felony or misdemeanor within three years of release from jail/prison or being placed on probation/parole. Thus, arrests that result in other sanctions such as a probation/parole revocation with new charges dismissed, are not counted. As Dan Walters noted at the time, this very narrow definition "would minimize official recidivism rates under realignment and thus, it seems, shield politicians from criticism."  

However, even using this more restrictive definition, the latest statistics released by the California DOJ show a high rate of return to crime by released inmates. Of those released in 2011-12, 54 percent had been convicted of a new crime within three years, while 46.8 percent of those released in 2012-13 had been convicted of a new crime.

The California DOJ does track arrests, as well as "supplemental" data, and using that metric recidivism rates are even higher: 75.3 percent of those released in 2011-12 were arrested within three years, and 66.7 percent released in 2012-13 were arrested within three years.

When you combine the makeup of California's state prison population serving time for a serious, violent or sexual offense – 78 percent in 2008, 91 percent in 2016 – it becomes clear that there are a lot of dangerous people in prison. And, when those people get out, they continue to victimize the community – a fact made clear by statistics from both the United States DOJ and the California DOJ.

The high rate of return to crime by released inmates is not good for those who rely on law enforcement services from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department since the department continues to be understaffed.

To properly deal with recidivism, one key component necessary is a fully functioning patrol force. The lack of sufficient patrol deputies in our understaffed department continues to be papered over via a program called Cadre of Administrative Reserve Personnel (CARP). The rise in crime is costly for all Californians as studies have shown. One proven solution to combat the increase in crime is to staff the Sheriff's Department fully. Crime rates go down and recidivism can be addressed when departments are fully staffed, well trained and supported by proper community services for those entering society.

About the Author
Robert Sass is Vice President of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs. The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS) is the collective bargaining agent representing more than 7,900 deputy sheriffs and district attorney investigators working in Los Angeles County. For more information, visit and follow ALADS online at and

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