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California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
Several Poor Administrative Practices Have Hindered Reductions in Recidivism and Denied Inmates Access to In‑Prison Rehabilitation Programs

Report Number: 2018-113



The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (Corrections) is responsible for protecting the public by safely and securely supervising adult and juvenile inmates, providing effective rehabilitation and treatment, and integrating inmates successfully back into their communities. Corrections operates three adult women's prisons and 33 adult men's prisons across the State,2 and it housed 116,400 male inmates and 5,200 female inmates as of September 2018.

In the early 2000s, California's prison system faced a crisis due to overcrowding and a budget that was increasing at an unsustainable rate, from $5 billion in fiscal year 2000–01 to $9 billion in fiscal year 2010–11. Additionally, in 2011 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an order requiring Corrections to reduce its inmate population to 137.5 percent of the prisons' design capacity in an effort to ensure that it provided mental health and medical treatment that met constitutional standards. The Legislature later passed Assembly Bill 109—the 2011 Realignment Legislation (realignment), which generally shifted the responsibility for incarcerating lower‑level felons convicted of nonviolent, nonserious, and non‑sex‑related crimes from the State to the counties.

Although the number of inmates housed in state prisons has decreased since realignment, the recidivism rate for inmates in California has remained stubbornly high, averaging about 50 percent from fiscal years 2002–03 through 2012–13, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1
Corrections' Recidivism Rate Averaged Around 50 Percent From Fiscal Years 2002–03 Through 2012–13

A graph indicating Corrections' recidivism rate between fiscal year 2002-03 and 2012-13.

Source: Analysis of Corrections' 2017 Outcome Report: An Examination of Offenders Released in Fiscal Year 2012–13.

Recent Policy Changes Have Reduced the
State Prison Population

In recent years, the Legislature and voters enacted various constitutional and statutory changes that significantly changed the composition of the State's inmate population. Some of the major changes include the following:

  • Realignment (2011): Realignment limited who could be sent to state prison. Specifically, it required that certain lower‑level offenders serve their incarceration terms in county jail. Additionally, it required that counties, rather than the State, supervise certain lower‑level offenders released from state prison.
  • Proposition 36 (2012): Proposition 36 reduced prison sentences for certain offenders subject to the State's existing three‑strikes law whose most recent offenses were nonserious, nonviolent felonies. It also allowed certain offenders serving life sentences to apply for reduced sentences.
  • Proposition 47 (2014): Proposition 47 reduced penalties for certain offenders convicted of nonserious and nonviolent property and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. It also allowed certain offenders who had been previously convicted of such crimes to apply for reduced sentences.
  • Proposition 57 (2016): Proposition 57 expanded inmate eligibility for parole consideration, increased the State's authority to reduce inmates' sentences due to good behavior and/or the completion of rehabilitation programs, and mandated that judges determine whether youth should be subject to adult sentences in criminal court.

Source: Analysis of state law, regulations, and documents related to propositions.

The National Institute of Justice describes recidivism as a person's relapse into criminal behavior, often after the person receives sanctions or undergoes intervention for a previous crime. In California, state law required the Board of State and Community Corrections (board) to develop the State's definition of recidivism. In 2014 the board defined recidivism as a conviction for a new felony or misdemeanor committed within three years of release from custody or committed within three years of placement on supervision for a previous criminal conviction. The reduction in recidivism in fiscal year 2012–13 shown in Figure 1 is likely due to the passage of Proposition 47 in 2014, which reduced the classification of certain nonserious and nonviolent property and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, thus reducing the penalties for those crimes. Although the proposition passed in 2014, it likely kept some individuals who were released in fiscal year 2012–13 from returning to prison within three years. Despite the small reduction, recidivism remains a serious issue. According to a study referenced in the National Institute of Justice's website, California has the 13th highest recidivism rate in the country.

As described in the text box, major policy changes, including Proposition 47, have reduced the State's prison population and the amount of time inmates serve, thus increasing the importance of effective rehabilitation programs. As a result of these key policy changes, a greater majority of inmates currently housed in state prisons are now classified as serious and violent offenders. Specifically, according to Corrections' demographic reports, the proportion of inmates in custody for crimes against persons, which tend to be more serious than other crimes, grew from 59 percent in 2010 to 76 percent in 2017.

Corrections Has Increased Its Focus on Rehabilitation Programs

Following realignment, Corrections began increasing inmates' access to in‑prison rehabilitation programs to meet their rehabilitative needs. Research shows that rehabilitation programs can reduce recidivism by changing inmates' behavior based on their individual needs and risks. For example, inmates are more likely to recidivate if they have drug abuse problems or have trouble keeping steady employment. Rehabilitation programs aim to address and mitigate those challenges.

In 2012 Corrections released a report, commonly known as the blueprint,3 that set a number of goals, including increasing access to rehabilitation programs in order to meet the needs of inmates before their release. The Legislature subsequently provided Corrections with a significant increase in funding to provide increased inmate access to rehabilitative services. As shown in Figure 2, Corrections' budget for in‑prison rehabilitation programs increased by $64 million, or nearly 30 percent, between fiscal years 2015–16 and 2016–17. Corrections used this increase in funding to expand its cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) reentry programs—designed to correct an inmate's patterns of thinking and behavior—to all of its 36 prisons, as shown in Table 1.

Figure 2
The Budget for Rehabilitation Programs Increased by $64 Million From Fiscal Years 2013–14 Through 2018–19
(In Millions)

A graph that outlines the rehabilitation program funding between fiscal years 2013-14 and 2018-19.

Source: Analysis of fiscal year 2015–16 Governor's Budget, fiscal years 2016–17 through 2018–19 budget acts, and Corrections' budget documents.

Note: We excluded costs associated with Corrections' community‑based programming and its administration of rehabilitation programs from this analysis.

Table 1
Corrections Has Increased Its Rehabilitation Programs to All of Its 36 Prisons
Number of prisons that provide
rehabilitation programs for:*
2010–11 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16 2016–17 2017–18
Academic education 33 33 34 35 36 36 36 36
Vocational education 29 29 33 35 36 36 36 36
COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY Substance abuse disorder treatment 12 12 12 14 24 24 36 36
Anger management, family relationships, criminological thinking 0 0 0 12 14 14 36 36

Source: Analysis of Corrections' budget reports for fiscal years 2010–11 through 2017–18.

* We excluded programs designated for inmates serving lengthy periods of incarceration, such as life with the possibility of parole.

CalPIA Provides Vocational Training Programs
in Nine Different Areas

  • Carpentry*
  • Iron working*
  • Construction labor*
  • Commercial diving
  • Facilities maintenance
  • Computer‑aided design
  • Computer coding
  • Culinary
  • Roofing*

Source: Analysis of the September 2017 and April 2018 agreements between Corrections and CalPIA, CalPIA's union agreements, and CalPIA's PIA Programs by Institution report dated June 30, 2018.

* Union affiliated.

For fiscal year 2018–19, the Legislature appropriated $298 million for rehabilitation programs, which equates to 2 percent of Corrections' overall budget, as shown in Figure 3. In comparison, rehabilitation funding made up 1 percent, or $127 million, of Corrections' budget in fiscal year 2011–12. A majority of the funding increase related to the expansion of CBT programs. Specifically, in fiscal year 2016–17, the budget for in‑prison rehabilitation programs increased from $238 million to $302 million, with 70 percent of this increase going toward in‑prison programs, including CBT programs and support. According to Corrections' reports, it had budgeted capacity capable of providing rehabilitation opportunities for up to 130,000 inmates in its academic education, vocational education, CBT, and other programs in fiscal year 2017–18.

In addition to the training provided by Corrections, the California Prison Industry Authority (CalPIA) provides vocational education to another 580 inmates. A majority of CalPIA's resources are devoted to its prison industry programs, such as manufacturing license plates or furniture, but CalPIA also provides vocational programs in a total of nine fields, as shown in the text box. Inmates are generally eligible for a CalPIA vocational program interview if they are designated as a minimum or medium security level, exhibit good behavior, do not currently have a need for substance abuse treatment, and have not been sentenced to life without parole. Currently, Corrections has contracted with CalPIA to establish and manage vocational programming through fiscal year 2019–20, at a cost of $12.4 million. CalPIA partners with unions to provide curriculum and instructors for four of these programs—carpentry, iron working, construction labor, and roofing. After they complete these programs, inmates become eligible for each union's apprenticeship program upon release.

Figure 3
Rehabilitation Funds Make Up a Small Portion of Corrections' Fiscal Year 2018–19 Budget
(Dollars in Millions)

A chart that shows how much of Corrections' budget is dedicated for rehabilitation programs for fiscal year 2018-19.

Source: Analysis of fiscal year 2018–19 Budget Act, and Corrections' budget documents.

Note: We excluded costs associated with Corrections' community‑based programming and its administration of rehabilitation programs from this analysis.

* The Transitions Program equips inmates with job search skills and financial literacy to help them reintegrate into society once released.

Volunteer programs include educational, social, cultural, and recreational activities provided by volunteers or nonprofits. Programs can include Alcoholics Anonymous, yard time literacy, or yoga.

Corrections Operates a Variety of Rehabilitation Programs

Within Corrections, the Division of Rehabilitative Programming (division) is generally responsible for administering the rehabilitation programs that Corrections provides to inmates.4 The division oversees programs at all 36 state prisons, including programs run by Corrections staff, such as adult education and vocational training, and programs such as CBT run by contract staff. Additionally, inmates can participate in programs that Corrections oversees but that are run by volunteers, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and yoga.

Corrections determines what in‑prison rehabilitation programs inmates need through assessments that it requires inmates to take upon entering an institution. As shown in Figure 4, an inmate's score on these assessments indicates the type of rehabilitation program that will address his or her needs. The first assessment, known as Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (COMPAS), measures an inmate's need for CBT and vocational education. A second assessment, known as the Tests of Adult Basic Education (TABE), measures an inmate's need for academic education programs. As shown in Table 2, Corrections gives priority for enrollment in rehabilitation programs to inmates who have both a moderate to high risk of recidivating and a moderate to high need for a rehabilitation program. Corrections determines inmates' risk of recidivating according to their California Static Risk Assessment (CSRA) score, which is derived from their prior criminal history. If inmates receive a moderate to high COMPAS score in any of the four CBT categories—substance abuse, criminal thinking, anger management, or family relationships—Corrections places them on a waiting list for the class or classes that address their rehabilitative needs. In addition, state law requires Corrections to offer academic programming throughout an inmate's period of incarceration, focused on increasing the inmate's reading ability to at least a ninth‑grade level. Corrections also requires inmates to participate in substance abuse disorder treatment if it determines that they have a history of drug abuse.

Figure 4
Corrections Uses Inmate Assessment Scores to Assess an Inmate's Need for Rehabilitation Programs

A chart that indicates assessments Corrections uses to identify an inmate's need for rehabilitation programs.

Source: Analysis of various Corrections policies and staff interviews.

* We excluded programs designated for inmates serving lengthy periods of incarceration, such as life with the possibility of parole.

Inmates enter the prison system through one of six institutions known as reception centers. Correctional counselors at the reception centers evaluate the inmates through assessments such as COMPAS and TABE, and retrieve the inmate's CSRA score, which is automatically developed based on the inmate's demographics and criminal history using California Department of Justice (DOJ) data. Medical staff also administer medical and psychological evaluations. Corrections' classification staff use the assessments and input from the correctional counselors to assign the inmates to a home institution. Within two weeks of arrival at their assigned prison, inmates meet with a correctional counselor who uses the assessments to recommend a course of treatment to a classification committee. The classification committee evaluates the inmate's case factors, such as the assessments and the counselor's recommendations, and places the inmate on appropriate waiting lists for in‑prison work or rehabilitation programs. Inmate assignment officers place inmates who are on waiting lists into in‑prison jobs or rehabilitation programs as those opportunities become available. Inmates have a strong incentive to participate because they can earn credits for early release by participating in approved rehabilitation programs or by attaining educational achievements.

Table 2
Corrections Uses Assessment Scores to Identify Inmates With the Highest Risk to Recidivate and the Highest Rehabilitative Needs and Places Those Inmates at a Higher Priority
Inmate risk to recidivate
Low risk Moderate to high risk
+ one of the following:
Inmate behavioral needs
Low need Moderate to high need
Inmate education needs
Reading score ninth‑grade level or above Reading score zero to eighth‑grade level

Source: Analysis of state law and Corrections policies and staff interviews.

* Corrections prioritizes inmates for CBT and vocational education programming if they have a moderate to high risk to recidivate based on their CSRA score and a moderate to high need for the program based on their COMPAS score. Corrections prioritizes inmates for academic education programming if they have a moderate to high risk to recidivate based on their CSRA score and a reading score below a ninth‑grade level based on their TABE score.

Two Entities Provide Oversight of Corrections' Rehabilitation Programs

Oversight of Corrections' in‑prison rehabilitation programs is provided by two entities. State law requires the Office of the Inspector General (Inspector General) to periodically review Corrections' implementation of the reforms outlined in the blueprint in addition to monitoring Corrections' delivery of medical care for inmates and overseeing its internal affairs investigations into allegations of wrongdoing by Corrections staff. Further, the California Rehabilitation Oversight Board (C‑ROB) issues an annual report examining some specific aspects of Corrections' rehabilitation programs. C‑ROB's members consist of various agency executives and private professionals with varying expertise and responsibilities related to inmate treatment. C‑ROB meets at least twice a year to discuss the effectiveness of Corrections' rehabilitation programs. However, for reasons described later in this report, oversight of Corrections' rehabilitation programs by these entities is limited.


2 Folsom State Prison (Folsom) houses both adult men and adult women in different prison facilities. Because their rehabilitation programs are separate, we treated the two facilities as separate prisons in our analysis. Go back to text

3 Corrections first released The Future of California: A Blueprint to Save Billions of Dollars, End Federal Oversight, and Improve the Prison System in 2012, and updated it in 2016. Go back to text

4 Other departments within Corrections are responsible for administering smaller rehabilitation programs. Go back to text

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