January 31, 2019
The Governor of California
President pro Tempore of the Senate
Speaker of the Assembly
Sacramento, California 95814
Dear Governor and Legislative Leaders:
As requested by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, the California State Auditor presents this audit report concerning the effectiveness of in-prison rehabilitation programs at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (Corrections).
This report concludes that inmates who completed in-prison cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) programs recidivated at about the same rate as inmates who did not complete the programs. These results are serious enough to highlight an urgent need for Corrections to take a more active and meaningful role in ensuring that these programs are effective. In particular, Corrections has not revalidated the accuracy of the tools it uses to assess inmates' rehabilitative needs since recent statutory changes caused a major shift in the State's prison population. Inaccurate assessment tools could result in placing inmates in the wrong programs or in no programs at all. Furthermore, Corrections has not ensured that all of its CBT class curricula are evidence based, resulting in a significant portion of inmates that do not receive treatment that has been proven effective in reducing recidivism. Addressing these two problems would help Corrections ensure that rehabilitation programs are meeting their primary purpose of reducing recidivism.
Moreover, Corrections has neither consistently placed inmates on waiting lists for needed rehabilitation programs nor prioritized those with the highest need correctly. This contributed to Corrections' failure to meet any of the rehabilitative needs for 62 percent of the inmates released in fiscal year 2017–18 who had been assessed as at risk to recidivate. One reason inmates may not be receiving needed rehabilitation programs is that Corrections is having difficulty fully staffing its rehabilitation programs at all of its prisons. These various issues have resulted in low inmate enrollment rates when compared to the programs' budgeted capacity at the three prisons we reviewed.
Finally, Corrections has neither developed any performance measures for its rehabilitation programs, such as a target reduction in recidivism, nor assessed program cost-effectiveness. Moreover, Corrections has not analyzed whether its rehabilitation programs reduce recidivism. To perform such an analysis, Corrections needs to collect additional data and take steps to ensure it delivers CBT programs as intended across all of its facilities. Although Corrections plans to coordinate with external researchers to conduct a performance evaluation of the rehabilitation programs over the course of the next two years, Corrections has taken no formal steps to initiate this process. Because the Legislature provided Corrections with a significant budget increase so that it could expand rehabilitation programs to all prisons in the State, it is vital that Corrections demonstrate that the additional investment was worthwhile. To this end, the Legislature should implement new accountability mechanisms related to Corrections' rehabilitation programs, including additional oversight, performance targets, and recidivism evaluations conducted by an external researcher.
ELAINE M. HOWLE, CPA
California State Auditor