Knocking on the Revolving Door: Analyzing Recidivism in San Francisco

by Meg Degeneffe, SF2011

Last week I felt like I made a difference in my city.

Last week the Fellows presented on our final project: analyzing recidivism in San Francisco. Recidivism is a huge challenge facing cities, with most studies showing 50% to
80% of those released from custody re-offend. Unfortunately, a comprehensive analysis
of recidivism in San Francisco
has not been completed before. With the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department’s
new Jail Management System in place, we were able to look at records of almost
800 offenders – an immense amount of data including demographic information and charges
(sometimes many charges) for each individual.

Managing information is a huge challenge for government today, especially for local government. With increased automation and more
technologically-savvy data collection, we have more information about what is
happening on the ground than ever before. The challenge is in translating that
information to tell a story about the larger picture, a story that helps us
make better decisions.

In our case there are a lot of people who know a part of that picture – there are many professionals working with individuals released
from jail to provide them resources and opportunities. Looking at the data
bears out some anecdotal trends—for instance, many re-offenders’ subsequent
crimes are drug or drug-related offenses. There are also somewhat surprising
results, including that many re-offenders commit their second offense very soon
after release. We’ll be submitting our final analysis later this year.

Quantifying these trends helps us see what we are doing right and investigate what we could do better. It gives the Sheriff’s
Department a fresh look at their constant challenge: how do we help people
released from jail stay out? With prison overcrowding in California
state prisons, and re-alignment bringing more inmates to San Francisco, the challenge will only become
more real. San Francisco
could experience up to a 42
increase in its jail population. I think we made an important
contribution, but there is a lot more work to be done – work that
makes our cities safer and helps people lead healthy, productive lives.

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