Sacramento State University wants to see if prisoner rehabilitation actually works

University wants to study realignment, but will anyone pay for it?

Read Raheem F. Hosseini's feature story on April 4, “The rehab racket,” about offender rehabilitation and realignment in California at

We don’t know what we don’t know.

That’s the gist of a Sacramento State University proposal to track how local law-enforcement agencies spend millions in state realignment monies intended to reduce recidivism.

Eighteen months into this grand experiment—in which California shifted responsibility for thousands of low-level offenders to individual counties—there is “no data connecting the millions of dollars in realignment funding for Sacramento County to any reduction in recidivism rates,” the university’s evaluation plan states.

Sac State’s research pitch represents the first real effort to quantify the effectiveness of local rehabilitation programs offered by the county. But if the university can’t get funding to conduct its research, that information black hole will swell.

The body responsible for disseminating local realignment dollars, the Community Corrections Partnership, hasn’t made room in this year’s $28 million allocation plan for the project. Not yet, anyway.

University researchers briefly pitched their proposal to the CCP’s executive committee on February 28, but weren’t able to drum up any visible interest. The university’s director of the Institute for Social Research, David Barker, wrote a March 26 letter to the board of supervisors explaining the dilemma.

The research proposal calls for following hundreds of individual offenders, both during incarceration and after release, for a period of five years. The goal is to study the effectiveness of criminal-rehab programs offered at the sheriff’s department’s main detention facility in Elk Grove, and at the probation department’s three adult day reporting centers throughout the county.

At a re-entry council meeting in February, the head of the sheriff’s department’s Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center praised the potential research.

“I just feel very humbled that they’ve taken us on,” Capt. Milo Fitch told attendees. “We are very, very hopeful that what we’re doing will be proven to be effective, but we don’t know yet.”

According to Barker’s letter to supervisors, one agency’s coup is another’s hassle.

“I should point out that to this point, Probation has declined to partner with the Sheriff in support of a coordinated evaluation effort across the two departments,” he writes.

Not so, insists Suzanne Collins, interim probation chief.

“I’ve never been approached by anyone to participate in his research project,” she told SN&R. “So, to state that I have been uncooperative … no one’s ever spoken to me.”

Collins planned to meet with Barker and a UC Davis doctor on Friday, April 12. She chaired the February 28 CCP meeting at which Barker made his brief presentation.

The university’s evaluation plan cites the importance of program completion and “ferret[ing] out which offender programming in Sacramento County is truly providing cognitive behavioral programming.”

A report released last year by the probation department showed zero program completions at its adult day reporting centers. Since that June 2012 report, nearly 900 realigned offenders passed through these centers.

Not everyone received cognitive-behavioral interventions or services, said probation spokesman Alan Seeber.