Senate Committee on Public Safety Approves Calderon Bill Ensuring Effectiveness of CDCR Rehabilitation Programs

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

SACRAMENTO – Assembly Bill 1688, a measure authored by Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon and Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer, Sr., which would ensure that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation programs reduce recidivism, was approved by the Senate Public Safety Committee today.

“It’s critical that we evaluate the effectiveness of rehabilitation programs to ensure that our rehabilitation programs in state prisons do indeed promote reductions in recidivism,” stated Majority Leader Calderon. “AB 1688 will take necessary steps to ensure that public funds are being properly utilized, and the state is fulfilling the rehabilitative component of the correctional experience.”

In April of last year, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee approved an audit request to evaluate the effectiveness of the In-Prison Rehabilitative Programs of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).  This request stemmed from a Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) report from December of 2017 on “Improving In-Prison Rehabilitation Program,” which found several shortcomings.  The LAO’s report concluded that “CDCR has a flawed approach for measuring program performance, which makes it difficult to determine whether existing program resources are being used effectively.”

The resulting Audit’s findings were troubling.  The Audit’s analysis of inmates released from prison in fiscal year 2015-16 found that inmates who completed their recommended CBT rehabilitation programs recidivated at about the same rate as inmates who were not assigned to those rehabilitation programs. The audit points to a number of factors, from out-of-date assessment tools to not ensuring that program vendors are utilizing evidence based curriculum.  In fact, the Audit reviewed contracts for vendors that provided CBT classes at 10 of CDCR's 36 prisons and found that nearly 20% of their respective curricula were not evidence based.

Perhaps most alarming of the Audit’s findings was that CDCR has failed to meet any of the rehabilitative needs for 62% of the inmates released in fiscal year 2017-18 who had been assessed as at risk of recidivating.  The Audit attributes this lack of treatment to staffing and facilities issues, which have resulted in low inmate enrollment rates when compared to the programs’ budgeted capacity at the three prisons the Audit reviewed.  The Audit additionally found that CDCR has neither developed any performance measures for its rehabilitation programs, such as a target reduction in recidivism, nor has it assessed program cost‑effectiveness. The Audit concludes with several recommendations for CDCR and the Legislature, which AB 1688 endeavors to pursue.

“In conversations I have had with current and former inmates, it has been made clear how impactful evidence-based therapy is in helping them unpack trauma that has never been treated,” said Assemblymember Jones-Sawyer, Sr. “However, we must stop throwing taxpayer money at problems, without demanding demonstrative results. It is time we ensure that incarcerated individuals are able to successfully reenter society with the skills and training needed to lead productive lives.”

In order to ensure that CDCR's rehabilitation programs reduce recidivism, AB 1688 will require CDCR to do the following:

  • Establish performance targets, including ones for reducing recidivism and determining the programs' cost effectiveness.
  • Partner with external researchers to evaluate the effectiveness of its rehabilitation programs and implement a comprehensive plan to develop and implement a corrective action plan.
  • Report to the Legislature on CDCR's implementation of the State Auditor's recommendations.
  • Issue an interim report by July 1, 2022 and a final report by July 1, 2024 that shows the percentage reduction in recidivism that can be attributed to the rehabilitation programs.