With three years of data now available since the state downsized its prison population, Santa Barbara County probation officers reported this week that the recidivism rate has been consistently lower than it was statewide before realignment was enacted in 2011.
The study — which was done with UCSB Gevirtz Graduate School of Education researchers and used data through 2014 — found 68 percent of probationers completed their terms without reoffending; 27 percent were convicted of new charges. What’s more, probation officer Tanja Heitman said, the combination of jail time and supervision and intervention has a greater impact on reducing recidivism than just jail sentences. “Jail alone can actually make the situation worse,” she said.
Specifically, 41 percent of offenders who received a “straight jail sentence” (without supervision or intervention) were convicted of new charges within a year of release whereas 27 percent of offenders who received a “split sentence” (with supervision upon release) were convicted of new crimes within a year.
“If we really want to change the direction,” Heitman said, “you have to be prepared to provide intervention and the opportunity to get lives back on track.”
A majority of the 798 offenders serving probation terms were men and Latino. About 25 percent were identified as gang affiliated, according to the report, and 75 percent received some form of treatment, “though no differences were found between offenders who received treatment and those who did not.” More than a third of probationers exhibited noncompliant behavior — mostly due to substance use — that for the most part resulted in a “flash incarceration.”
“The majority of the folks we’re working with are high risk, and they need high [amount of] services,” said Supervisor Janet Wolf during the presentation. “Our staff has done an extensive job.” From here, UCSB researchers, working with a county focus group, will more closely look at treatment options and other analysis.
A small portion of offenders on probation received GPS monitoring, but there were not any differences in their outcome, the report found. The department is looking into acquiring more GPS devices, which could be funded by state realignment money. This fiscal year, the department received about $10 million. Of that, a third was spent on jail, a third on supervision, and a third on treatment, Heitman said.
UCSB’s Jill Sharkey cautioned interpreting the first couple of years of data; she added that she is looking forward to the next report.
The report did not factor in Proposition 47— a state initiative reducing many nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors — that was approved by voters in November 2014.
“The good news for Santa Barbara County is that we are at the front of the pack in terms of providing a really independent, thorough evaluation about what is happening under realignment,” Heitman said. The Probation Department plans to return to the Board of Supervisors with next year’s realignment budget plans on May 10.