It has long been assumed by many law enforcement and corrections officials, politicians and pundits, that people on parole and probation are the biggest contributors to the overall crime rate. To put it another way, those under state or county supervision for a previous crime, account for a big, bad chunk of all new arrests.
We hear some version of this assumption whenever the topic of state prison realignment comes into the conversation.
But is it true?
The Chiefs of Police for Los Angeles, Redlands, Sacramento, and San Francisco (this list obviously includes the LAPD’s Charlie Beck), along with some other criminal justice experts and leading law enforcement officials in California, decided they’d like to find out. So in 2010 they commissioned a rigorous study to learn the reality of the matter.
Between then and now, researchers at the Council for State Governments Justice Center collected and matched more than 2.5 million arrest, parole, and probation records generated between January 1, 2008 and June 11, 2011, in those four different areas. Along with the four police forces, data and help was provided by four matching probation departments, the California Department of Corrections, and two sheriff’s department, most notably Lee Baca and the LASD.
The resulting report, which was released Tuesday afternoon, had some surprising results:
COUNTER TO EXPECTATIONS, THE BIG ARREST NUMBERS DID NOT COME FROM PAROLEES OR PROBATIONERS
It turns out that a startling 78 percent of those arrested for a crime in these four California areas, between Jan. 2008 and June 2011, were not on either parole or probation.
And 62 percent of those arrested had no parole or local probation history at all.
That, of course, left 22 percent—or one out of every five arrestees—that came out of the parole/probation pool. Interestingly, the majority were on probation, not parole. And the crime those probationers or parolees were most likely to commit was drug related.
The time period covered by the 52-page study [which you can access here], stopped just short of when California’s prison realignment kicked in during October 2011, opening the door for a similar study to be done a year or two years from now, using this one as a baseline.
BUT WHAT ABOUT VIOLENT CRIMES?
The percentages were even more dramatic when it came to adult violent felony arrests.
In Los Angeles, out of 51,749 violent felony arrests, 6,001—or 11.5 percent—of those arrested were on probation.
A far lower amount 3,653—or 7 percent—of those arrested for violent felonies in LA were on parole.
The remaining 42,095—or 81 percent—were not under any supervision.
PREDICTING THE PROBLEMS
The report has a lot more in the way of intriguing information for those who take the time to read it closely.
For instance, obviously, there is a “subset” of probationers and parolees who do commit more crimes and get rearrested—for drug, property and/or violent crimes.
So the question is, how successful are we in picking which people are the most likely to go off the legal rails again—and thus who needs the most supervision and help.
The answer turns out to be mixed. Weirdly, the systems in place for parole classification—designating the high risk people who need lots more controls, and those who are generally low risk, and all in between—turn out to be fairly accurate most of the time:
Of those on parole, the people who were labeled high risk were more likely to offend than lower risk people. Specifically, 51 percent of those parolees who were arrested were in the high risk category. The moderate risk category made up 33 percent of the parole re-arrests. Those labeled “low risk” accounted for 13 percent.
However when it came to those on probation in the various counties, all predictive powers and effective assessment tools seemed to go out the window. Only 5 percent of those probationers who were arrested for new crimes had been classified as high risk, 38 percent of the new arrestees were labeled medium risk, while 37 percent were labeled low risk.
San Francisco was the one exception. Their risk assessment methods paid off. Their arrestees were: 73 percent from the high risk category, 11 percent moderate, only 2 percent were labeled “low risk.”
WHAT ABOUT THOSE “NON-REVOKABLE” PAROLEES?
In January 2010, CDCR instituted a parole supervision policy known as Non Revocable Parole.
The strategy was, to a large degree designed to lower the prison population because, for years, approximately 40 percent of those coming into California prisons were not coming in because they had been convicted of new crimes, but because they had violated a technical condition of their parole. These “conditions” were strictures that varied from testing dirty on a required drug test to showing up in the area of town where you weren’t allowed to be because it’s where your former gang hung out, never mind that your mom and your girlfriend also lived on those same blocks—plus a list of other infractions.
The idea of Non-Revocable Parole (or NRP) was to reserve that laundry list of ways that you could land back in prison for the high risk people who needed the structure the most, and lift it from the low-risk people who were then, it was hoped, were more likely to start just living their lives.
To be eligible for NRP, the parolee could not have a criminal conviction for any one of various serious offenses (sex offenses, murder, voluntary manslaughter, robbery, 1st degree burglary), and had to be assessed as low risk.
Releases of prisoners to NRP began in earnest in March 2010 and by October 2010 there were nearly 17,000 NRP parolees in California communities.
So, how did the NRPs do? Obviously, more study is needed, but contrary to The Sky Is Falling pronouncements from many, of the 170,336 adult arrests that occurred in the four jurisdictions during the 15-month period of the study that overlapped with the implementation of NRP, 216 arrests involved people on NRP. That’s under 2 percent.
Surely there is much room for improvement when it comes to screening for risk. And we need to become more effective at helping people successfully reroute the trajectories of their lives so as to avoid returning to prison.
But this study—The Impact of Probation and Parole Populations on Arrests in Four California Cities— is a good, smart, informative place to begin the next stage of work.
So a round of applause for the 4 Chiefs of Police and 2 Sheriffs who made it possible.
AND IN OTHER NEWS, BE SURE TO READ THE LA TIMES’ STEVE LOPEZ’S COLUMN ON CARDINAL MAHONY—AND AND THEN READ PATT MORRISON’S
Here’s a clip from the column: