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No Data to Prove Whether $600-Million California Parole Effort Worked

Results of a yearlong investigation released on July 10, 2023, found that a state-funded rehabilitation program for California parolees started in 2014—Specialized Treatment for Optimized Programming (STOP)—has cost taxpayers $600 million, with little evidence to prove it is working.

STOP is part of a plan Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has put forward to “retool” the state prison system with an emphasis on rehabilitation. Yet it serves less than a quarter of the roughly 35,000 people released from prison each year. Moreover, the state does not collect data on whether program participants find jobs or return to prison for another crime.

The investigation, conducted by nonprofit news organization CalMatters, found that the program is poorly managed, and the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) rarely audits the four companies contracted to run it: GEO Group subsidiary GEO Reentry Services, Amity Foundation, HealthRight 360 and WestCare California. All but GEO are nonprofits, subcontracting to hundreds of other non-profit and for-profit entities to run STOP homes and treatment centers.

Former CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate, who left the agency in 2012, launched a firm that lobbied for Amity Foundation, HealthRight 360 and WestCare California in the 2021-2022 legislative session. A significant amount of money was spent by the three non-profits on their contracts: $230,000 by Amity Foundation; $51,000 by WestCare California; and $27,500 by HealthRight 360. Since California does not collect data on STOP’s outcomes, it is not clear how much of that money was spent on lobbying.

Another issue found in the investigation is a troubling lack of oversight by CDCR. The four contractors are required to inspect and report on hundreds of subcontractors every year, but CalMatters found that state employees had not written any program accountability reviews for the four themselves between 2018 and December 2022—and they had reviewed only three out of hundreds of their subcontractors. CDCR claims it is developing a tool to better track whether contractors conduct annual program accountability reviews of their subcontractors, but the tool had not been used as of June 2023, according to the investigation.

Some parolees who participated in the program found it helpful, while others felt it was a waste of time. Some were dismissed for violating program rules; others left voluntarily because they felt it was too restrictive. Despite the lack of data, advocates say it provides a soft landing for people on parole who otherwise would be on their own and competing for scarce housing in California’s high-priced property market.

Newsom and his predecessor, former Gov. Jerry Brown (D), have spent millions to shorten criminal sentences and steer resources to rehabilitation, allowing CDCR to close one prison and start shuttering three more. But until lawmakers compel the agency to “track the success of the new rehabilitation services in helping former prisoners stay out of prison,” the state is shooting in the dark at its criminal justice reform targets.  


Sources: CalMAtters, LAist