70% Effective, No Thank You

 How would you feel about driving a car with brakes guaranteed to work 70% of the time?  What about strapping on a parachute with a low failure-to-open rate of just 30%? 

According to an online article posted by the Los Angeles Times, System would change how L.A. County inmates get early release the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office will be submitting a proposal to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to move to a “risk based” system to determine which inmates should receive early release.  A 70% success rate appears to be good enough for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office.

California’s prison realignment has really made a mess of the criminal justice system that was already facing big challenges.  California is notorious for it 70% recidivism rate among parolees and those where the parolees released early through the normal procedure.

Your typical county jail is not designed to house state inmates for extended periods of time.  Under realignment county jails are now managing state inmates, defendants held pending trial and the mentally ill.  According to the Times article Los Angeles County has added 6000 inmates to their population since realignment was initiated.

Part of the problem in California and in other states is taxpayers do not want to underwrite the cost of building and maintaining more prisons.  Taxpayers would rather spend money on roads, bridges and football stadiums.  By not adding prison space, California is left with too many inmates and too few beds resulting in the necessity to release criminals back into society before they’ve served out the entirety or the majority of their sentences.

According to the Times article, men convicted of nonviolent crimes are serving just 20% of their sentence while women with similar crimes are serving only 10%.  Men and women with more serious charges including robbery and misdemeanor child molestation (is there such a thing?) are serving as little as 40% of their remaining terms.

Moving to a system that tries to predict human behavior based on past actions may sound pretty cool, but the rate of effectiveness falls short.   Susan Turner, a criminology professor at UC Irvine, is quoted in the Times article as saying “the tool has an approximately 70% accuracy rate in its assessments”.  This leaves 30% of convicted felons released early committing new crimes.  That’s unacceptable.

There are two remedies Los Angeles County should consider.  First, rather than release defendants from jail pending trial on their own recognizance, reduce their bond by half whenever the jail reaches 98% of population.  This would make it more affordable for defendants to post bond.  Some guarantee of appearance is better than no guarantee.

Secondly, with respect to releasing convicted felons early, require candidates for early release to post an Early Release Bond which would guarantee any parolee charged with a violation will reappear at parole revocation hearing.

These are not new concepts.  Assemblyman Curt Hagman proposed a new bond schedule which would help jail crowding and The American Bail Coalition has pushed legislation to implement an Early Release Bond.

Now is a great time to consider these solutions before a poor alternative is considered.  As we know in the bail profession, a 70% percent success rate will put you out of business.