The San Diego Prisoner Reentry Program, authorized under California Senate Bill 618, cut recidivism among non-violent felony offenders by 17 percent, resulting in savings of $10 million over five years, according to a new study released by the SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Division.

The findings from this study’s final report, Improving Reentry for Ex-Offenders in San Diego County, are particularly relevant as local jurisdictions grapple with an influx of ex-offenders being shifted from state oversight to local supervision under state Assembly Bill 109. The population served by the Reentry Program is similar to the population shifted by the public safety realignment.

Under the San Diego Prisoner Reentry Program, which operated from February 2007 through June 2012 (when funding was discontinued), participants received intensive support services to help them with housing, employment, drug treatment, and other needs.

“San Diego County was at the forefront of developing and adopting best practices to reduce recidivism,” said SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Director Cynthia Burke. “The lessons we’ve learned here can be applied by local jurisdictions throughout California to effectively reintegrate ex-offenders and save taxpayers’ money.”

Even before their prison sentence began, the needs of the participants in the Reentry Program were assessed. A multidisciplinary team created an individualized ”life plan” for each offender. The life plan was modified with participant input throughout the course of the program.

Case managers worked with participants both in prison and after release to ensure they were accessing services to meet their needs. Program staff used motivational interview techniques to maximize retention and facilitate ex-offenders’ entry into substance abuse treatment programs.

After a prisoner was released, a community roundtable (comprising the community case manager, parole agent, and other individuals identified by the ex-offender) met regularly to resolve reintegration challenges.

The average cost per successful participant was $123,648, almost $8,200 lower than the cost for a successful comparison case under parole supervision but not a part of the program. More importantly, the short-term costs of the Reentry Program resulted in long-term savings. Avoiding the cost of re-incarceration ($49,893 on average) and parole supervision ($4,771) for one year amounts to an estimated $10 million in savings for the 1,078 individuals served during the program’s duration.

The following are some of the lessons learned that may be useful as California counties take on the responsibility of supervising offenders previously overseen by the state:

  • Determine needs and begin services to meet needs while offender is in custody (as early as possible).
  • Include cognitive behavioral programs to change how offenders think about behavioral choices and introduce these programs as early as possible, ideally in custody before release.
  • Facilitate provision of services in the community immediately upon release that build upon the foundation begun in custody.
  • Employ motivational interviewing techniques and incentives for making significant progress toward goals to engage participants.
  • Pay particular attention to needs for housing and employment training, as meeting these needs were shown to be associated with successful reentry.
  • Use intermediate sanctions as alternatives for addressing offender behavior rather than relying only on additional custody time.

The San Diego Prisoner Reentry Program was led by the District Attorney’s Office and included the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; County Probation Department; County Sheriff’s Department (including a subcontract with the Grossmont Union High School District to do educational assessments); County Public Defender’s Office; County Defense Bar; County Superior Court; and the University of California, San Diego.