Our review of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's (department) intermediate sanction programs for parole violators revealed the following:
Felons on parole from California's adult correctional facilities—which on average numbered 128,000 each day in 2004—are under the supervision of the Division of Adult Parole Operations (parole division) within the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (department).1 Most felons serve a specific number of years in prison, depending on the nature of their crime. Most are released to parole supervision for three years, and they must abide by certain conditions during this time. A parolee who has violated the law or failed to comply with a parole condition may be subject to reincarceration, depending on the seriousness of the parole violation and the judgment of the parole agent.
According to the former deputy director of the parole division, the programs that eventually were established under the department's New Parole Model were intended primarily to fill perceived gaps in the department's parole process. The department hoped to help parolees reintegrate into communities by implementing prerelease programs aimed at matching future parolees to the programs and services they needed and by expanding post-release programs aimed at improving newly released parolees' access to those programs and services, thereby reducing the recidivism rate. The department also planned to implement three intermediate sanction programs that could be used as an alternative to prison for low-risk parolees who commit minor crimes or technical violations of their parole conditions. For two of the intermediate sanction programs, the department hoped to help parole violators improve their behavior and their lives and, in the long term, reduce their chances of returning to criminal activity. The department also anticipated that, by using the three intermediate sanction programs, it could reduce prison costs by reducing the number of parole violators returned to prison.
As part of the fiscal year 2003-04 budget act, the Legislature approved the department's use of the Substance Abuse Treatment Control Units (SATCU), Halfway Back, and Electronic In-Home Detention (EID) intermediate sanction programs. The parole division anticipated that the programs would result in savings of $50.2 million in fiscal year 2003-04 and $100.5 million in fiscal year 2004-05. These savings were to come about through the lower cost of maintaining a parolee in one of these programs as opposed to revoking parole and returning the parolee to prison. For fiscal year 2003-04, the department spent $4.9 billion to incarcerate inmates, and in 2003 there were more than 78,000 parolee returns to prison. To reduce the number of parole violators returned to prison, the parole division would place eligible parolees who violated the technical conditions of their parole or committed minor crimes in intermediate sanction programs rather than returning them to prison.
In April 2005, the department secretary (formerly the secretary of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency) terminated the use of the intermediate sanction programs as alternatives to prison because he saw no evidence that the programs improved public safety. Although the department had data regarding the parole violators in the programs that it could have used to evaluate whether the benefits it wanted to achieve were worth the additional risk to public safety, it did not analyze the data or establish benchmarks such as acceptable failure rates to measure the programs' results. The department subsequently has redesigned the SATCU and EID programs and expects to implement the new versions in November 2005.
The department did not achieve its savings goals because it unrealistically assumed that the programs would be filled to capacity on January 1, 2004, the planned implementation date, and would continue to operate at full capacity. It also experienced unanticipated problems that delayed the programs' implementation. The department's fiscal year 2003-04 savings estimates assumed that 12,000 parole violators would be placed in the programs, but as of December 31, 2004, six months after the end of the fiscal year, only 5,742 had entered the SATCU and Halfway Back programs. We estimate that the total savings related to these participants was only $14.5 million—an average $1.2 million per month over a 12-month period—far short of the average $8.4 million per month it would have had to save to achieve its planned savings of $50.2 million for fiscal year 2003-04 and $100.5 million for fiscal year 2004-05.
Besides reduced recidivism, the department also hoped to reduce the workload of revocation hearings before the Board of Parole Hearings (board).2 As the result of a lawsuit settlement in November 2003, the board is required to conduct final parole revocation hearings within 35 days after the first day a parolee is detained for revocation proceedings. Thus, reducing the board's hearing caseload would increase the likelihood that it would meet the 35-day deadline. Evaluating the board's compliance with this settlement is beyond the scope of this audit. However, as of December 31, 2004, we observed that the board's hearing caseload would have been reduced by approximately 5,700—the number of parole violators who had been placed in the intermediate sanction programs at least once by that time.
Although the tradeoff may be difficult, achieving the desired benefits of using intermediate sanctions in lieu of returning eligible parole violators to prison requires a willingness to accept the additional risks associated with keeping individuals who are proven to be uncooperative in the community. The parole division minimized the risk to public safety by placing less dangerous parole violators in the programs. Additionally, the intermediate sanction programs were more restrictive than other parolee programs, providing supervision of or strict control over the parole violators placed in them. However, depending on the program, this supervision or strict control occurred between 30 days and an average of 45 days, which is significantly less than the average 153 days a parolee would have stayed in prison for parole violations. Because the parolees participating in these programs were not incarcerated, they were not prevented from committing crimes against the public for as long a period as they were before the programs existed.
Based on our data analysis, of the 2,567 parole violators placed in the SATCU program and 3,175 parole violators placed in the Halfway Back program by December 31, 2004, 128 (5 percent) and 114 (4 percent), respectively, were returned to prison for new convictions during the time they otherwise would have been in prison. Notwithstanding the significance of those crimes to their victims, the percentage of parolees participating in the two programs who were convicted of new crimes is small. An additional 1,732 parole violators placed in the Halfway Back and SATCU programs were returned to prison for committing parole violations during that time. However, the parole division had no benchmarks to determine whether these results were acceptable.
The department planned to implement the intermediate sanction programs on January 1, 2004, but contracting problems, labor negotiations, and unforeseen obstacles delayed their implementation. The SATCU program implementation, delayed until May 2004, depended on contracts with county jails to provide the 30-day in-custody component of the program. Yet the department found that many county jails were reluctant to contract with the State at the daily reimbursement rate offered or that they lacked space. The EID program implementation was delayed because of contracting problems, including numerous protests of the awarded contracts. Further, after the EID contract was finalized and the program implemented in late 2004, parole agents in the field found numerous equipment problems, and as a result the program never fully materialized before being terminated in April 2005. In contrast, the Halfway Back program was implemented relatively smoothly only one month after the January 1, 2004, deadline, but it did not reach its occupancy goals before being terminated.
When planning future intermediate sanction programs, the parole division should decide on appropriate benchmarks for monitoring performance, identify the data it will need to measure performance against those benchmarks, and ensure that reliable data collection mechanisms are in place before a program is implemented. After implementing a new intermediate sanction program, the parole division should analyze the data it has collected and, if relevant, use the data in its existing databases to monitor and evaluate the program's effectiveness on an ongoing basis.
The parole division should ensure that the savings estimates developed during program planning are based on reasonable assumptions. If those assumptions change, it should update the savings estimates promptly.
The parole division should consider analyzing the effect programs have had on parolee behavior and should use the knowledge it gains from the analyses to make future intermediate sanction programs more effective. The analysis should include the benefits of adding features to make these programs more effective.
The department agrees with our recommendations.
1This function was formerly the responsibility of the Parole and Community Services Division within the Department of Corrections. On July 1, 2005, the governor reorganized all departments under the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, including the Department of Corrections, into the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. For convenience, we use the term "department" to refer to either the former Department of Corrections or the current Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Similarly, we use "parole division" to refer to either the current or former parole division.
2As a result of the reorganization on July 1, 2005, of the departments under the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, the Board of Prison Terms was renamed the Board of Parole Hearings.