Fewer felons released from California prisons are returning because of committing new crimes or having their paroles revoked, says a new state report quoted by the Sacramento Bee. However, data buried in the voluminous report indicate that those released from prison are being arrested and convicted of new crimes at about the same rates as before the state began drawing down its prison population to comply with a federal court order aimed at reducing overcrowding. The lower rate of returns is almost entirely because fewer felons are having their paroles revoked and more are being funneled into local jails after conviction of new crimes, under policies adopted in response to the order to reduce prison crowding.
The report adds new information to an ongoing political debate over the effects of “realignment,” the 2011 program to reduce prison inmates by shifting felons deemed to be non-dangerous to local jails and probation programs. Critics say the policy has overcrowded local jails with felons, leaving little space for lesser offenders, who are then released to commit new crimes. The most recent data collected by the Board of State and Community Corrections indicate that nearly 90 percent of local jail inmates are now felons. Critics also contend that softening up on parole revocations has left more felons on the street to commit new crimes. The new report tracks released felons for three years to determine a “return-to-prison” rate. Of the 104,981 men and women who left prison during the 2009-10 fiscal year, it says, 54.3 percent were returned to prison within three years, 6.7 percentage points lower than those released in the previous year, 2008-09.