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Recidivism by the Numbers- Part 1

W. Scott Cole

Posted on July 15, 2018 04:02

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My goal in writing these TLTs is not only to give a voice for criminal justice reform, but to also inform and educate readers of the truths behind the need for reform. Towards that end, it is past time to talk about recidivism numbers.

Some people, in trying to justify lengthy, harsh prison sentences will say that 75% of inmates released from prison are rearrested within three years. Depending on the type of crime, they may claim that the rearrest rate goes as high as 100%. This week we will look at some of the numbers. It should be pointed out that no type of crime has a 100% recidivism rate.

My figures come from studies done periodically by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. While some information may be older, it is not out of date, as a comparison between a study published in 2004 and one in 2014 shows. The studies follow several hundred thousand inmates released from prison over a period of time.

There is a difference between being arrested and being convicted. Being arrested covers both misdemeanors and felonies and does not necessarily mean conviction. Both are important to keep in mind. The BSJ study includes those who are returned to prison following an arrest for a technical violation of parole or probation, meaning no new crime was committed. Many factors go into the BSJ studies, including age at the time of release, time before rearrest, sex, and race, among others The studies are complicated, dry reading, so I will not go into the amount of detail the BSJ did.

First, let’s look at the claim that 75% of released inmates will commit another crime within three years. This number is false, as is the claim that it is another crime. The real number is 67.8%, with much of that number being for parole or probation violations. It is at the five year mark that the numbers climb to 76.6%.

Age at the time of release is a huge factor. Of those rearrested, 84.1% were under age 24 at the time of their release. The numbers go down as the age at release goes up, with the rate being 69.2% for those age 40 or older.

Of those returned to prison, 55.1% of them were returned without a new conviction, meaning a technical violation of parole or probation. This means they were not convicted of a new crime, but were returned for other reasons, such as repeatedly failing UAs, curfew violations, missed parole officer meetings, missed mandatory treatment class meetings, etc.

When you subtract the percentage of those returned to prison without a new conviction, the recidivism numbers go way down. That 76.6% drops all the way to 21.5% meaning that less than one fourth of those who return to prison go back because they committed another crime. This is much more in line with the numbers those of us who advocate for justice reform point to as the real recidivism rate.

Next week I will look at the numbers for the different types of crimes. Some of them may surprise you.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on July 15, 2018 04:02

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