SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Corrections department researchers have found no spike in arrests of parolees since responsibility for many ex-convicts shifted to local authorities under the state's prison realignment law, according to a study released Thursday.
Ex-felons released in the six months since the law took effect in October 2011 were arrested at a slightly lower rate than parolees released from prison before that. They were convicted of new crimes at about the same rate as offenders released under the old criminal justice system.
The report adds to an ongoing debate over whether the realignment law, which was enacted to reduce prison crowding, is leading to higher crime. Under the law, thousands of lower-level offenders are sentenced to county jails instead of state prisons.
The group paroled in the law's first six months was more likely to be re-arrested for felonies, instead of misdemeanors, although most of the arrests for both groups were for drug and property crimes.
The more recent parolees also had more arrests per person, largely because some offenders were re-arrested three times or more.
Nearly 59 percent of the offenders were arrested again in the first year after their release from prison. But that was down from 62 percent of parolees who were arrested again during a similar period before the new law was enacted.
More than 22 percent were convicted again in the first year, up about 1 percentage point from a similar group before the realignment law took effect.
Under realignment, criminals convicted of what are considered non-violent, non-sexual and non-serious felonies are sentenced to county jails instead of state prisons. Most offenders released from both state prisons and county jails are supervised by local probation officers instead of state parole agents, and if they violate parole they go to jail instead of back to prison.
The law was pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown as one of his main answers to a federal court order requiring the state to reduce the population in its 33 adult prisons by tens of thousands of inmates.
In its report, the corrections department did not address issues that have arisen at the county level since the realignment law took effect, including overcrowding in local jails that is leading many offenders to be released within days or weeks of being convicted. Local probation officers also are having a difficult time tracking sex offenders who disable or remove their electronic monitoring ankle bracelets, allowing many of them to operate without detection for days at a time.
Critics of the law have said the early releases from county jails leave offenders with little fear that they will face significant punishment for committing new crimes. That appeared to be reflected in the report, which found that offenders now are much more likely to be re-arrested multiple times. Nearly 5 percent of the parolees had six or more arrests in their first year, more than three times the previous rate.
The department's researchers tracked nearly 37,500 offenders who were released from state prison in the six months after the realignment law took effect. They compared their arrests and convictions to those of nearly 52,000 parolees released from prison prior to the new law.
Both the arrests and convictions declined as time went on under the new law, they found, but they cautioned that it is too soon to know if that trend will continue.