Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Releases Proposed Statewide Definition of Recidivism

Thursday, October 16, 2014
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LOS ANGELES -- Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today released a proposed, statewide definition of recidivism in a letter addressed to California law enforcement leaders. The Attorney General’s proposed definition represents a data-driven approach to evaluate recidivism rates and measure the effectiveness of criminal justice policies and programs.

In a letter sent today to California Sheriffs, Police Chiefs, Probation Chiefs, District Attorneys and other law enforcement stakeholders, Attorney General Harris praised the success that many local law enforcement agencies have shown in implementing Public Safety Realignment and emphasized the need for an innovative, statewide assessment of strategies to curb recidivism.

“Universally defining recidivism is a fundamentally important issue if we are to be smart on crime. In California, Public Safety Realignment has shifted responsibility for incarceration and supervision of many offenders to our local counties. However, California lacks any uniform or standard way to measure the rate of individuals who re-commit crimes,” Attorney General Harris said in a letter to law enforcement leaders. 

The proposed, statewide definition measures recidivism as: An arrest resulting in a charge filed by a prosecutor within three years of an individual’s release from incarceration or placement on supervision for a previous criminal conviction.

In October of last year, Attorney General Harris created the Division of Recidivism Reduction and Re-Entry, which works to curb recidivism in the state by partnering with counties and District Attorneys on best practices and policy initiatives. For the past year, the Division has worked collaboratively with law enforcement leaders across the state to discuss the effectiveness of local criminal justice policies and programs.

The Division conducted a comprehensive survey of over 540 law enforcement, corrections, and policy stakeholders across California to assess how each defined and tracked recidivism across jurisdictions and agencies. According to the survey, 60% of respondents reported that they had no formal definition of recidivism and 34% reported that they lacked any data tracking recidivism.

“As our state’s top cop, Attorney General Harris has continued to show great leadership in addressing the complicated issue of recidivism in California. The Attorney General’s definition is data-focused and will give an accurate and true picture of recidivism in our state. As the chief law enforcement officer of L.A. County, I think the Attorney General's definition brings us one step closer to a uniform approach that counties throughout California can adopt to assess recidivism in their jurisdictions,” Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said. 

“The Attorney General has proposed a definition of recidivism, which CDAA fully supports. The reasons to measure recidivism vary from a means to identify the effectiveness of current laws and remedies, to the ability to evaluate the many rehabilitative programs within California,” Mark Zahner, CEO of the California District Attorneys Association said.

“We commend Attorney General Harris for her leadership in developing an intellectually sustainable definition of recidivism. It is appropriate for the Attorney General, as the state's chief law enforcement officer, to take the lead in presenting a definitive explanation of recidivism. Her proposed definition reflects the 'on the ground' realities of criminal behavior and will be extremely useful to all policy makers in evaluating the efficacy of various intervention strategies,” Christopher W. Boyd, President of the California Police Chiefs Association said.

In May of this year, Attorney General Harris announced the creation of a recidivism reduction pilot program with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD), the Los Angeles County Probation Department, private foundations (such as the Ford Foundation), and other public and private sector partners. The “Back on Track LA” pilot program will deliver critical education and comprehensive re-entry services before and after an individual is released from jail. The program will build on LASD’s “Education Based Incarceration Program,” through a partnership with the Los Angeles Community College District – specifically, Los Angeles Mission College and Los Angeles Trade Tech College to provide higher education opportunities for incarcerated participants that include prerequisites to community college degrees, credentials and certificates. The program will focus on the critical time following an individual’s release from jail, by providing the seamless re-entry services essential for success, including employment and life skill services.

In 2005, then San Francisco District Attorney Harris created a reentry initiative called Back on Track, which aimed to reduce recidivism among certain low-level, non-violent drug offenders. Over a two-year period, the program reduced recidivism among its graduates to less than 10 percent. Back on Track was designated as a model for law enforcement by the U.S. Department of Justice.

A copy of the letter is attached below.

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