This forced the CDCR to consider releasing "violent offenders" as well as "non-violent." It was immediately obvious that these standard classifications weren't very helpful when trying to choose inmates for early release, because they only tell you what sort of conviction landed an inmate in prison in the first place, and tell you nothing about how dangerous an inmate might presently be. As they had just learned, these were not at all the same thing.
So the CDCR embraced a new way to classify inmates considered for early release, something called the California Static Risk Assessment (CSRA, sorry for another acronym) that was developed at one of the UCs or a Cal State (I forget which). According to the research behind the CSRA, inmates with low, moderate, or high scores pose low, moderate or high risks of re-offending. Actually, according to recent recidivism statistics, after three years:
• 41% of inmates paroled with low CSRA scores re-offended
• 57% of inmates paroled with medium CSRA scores re-offended
• 74% of inmates paroled with high CSRA scores re-offended.
The CSRA had some predictive value, even though no parole board will parole an inmate based on a low CSRA score alone. But here's the shocker: inmates serving life sentences, who are paroled when finally eligible, have a recidivism rate of just 0.5%. These long-term inmates are by far the least likely to re-offend.
One key reason is that since 1979 convicted lifers have been the only prisoners required by law to rehabilitate themselves. Apparently rehabilitation really works, if lifers have proven to be most likely to change their lives. I have more to say about what sorts of rehabilitation work best, but obviously any serious attempt at it will work pretty well, or the most severely punished felons in America would surely re-offend at a rate higher than just five persons out of a thousand.
Meanwhile, the CDCR has painted itself into a corner. For years California's tough-on-crime politicians have drilled into the public the belief that "lock 'em up and keep 'em there" is the best philosophy for public safety. They continued to refer to long-term prisoners as "violent" based on the crime for which they were sentenced, instead of their current level of dangerousness according to their own risk assessments and recidivism statistics.
Now the public, which has always equated violent offenders with high recidivism risk, will have to be re-educated. For that to happen, politicians who were elected on misinformed public safety platforms will have to sing a new tune. This shift has happened in other states, but can it happen in California?