Recidivism Rates: The Past, Present & Future
In the criminal justice system, recidivism refers to the act of a former inmate reverting to committing a crime or relapsing back to criminal behavior despite facing the consequences (arrest, conviction, and incarceration). The word recidivism is derived from the Latin root word which translates to "fall back".
According to Milwaukee criminal lawyer, Matt Meyers recidivism rates are the percentage of inmates who are likely to relapse back to criminal behavior and eventually arrested for committing a new crime after release from prison. The statistics on recidivism rates is backed up by studies data carried out over a period of years. In regards to recidivism rates, the statistics can be categorized into 3 parts: the past, present, and the future.
Recidivism Rates: The Past
A research done by the United-States Bureau of Justice-Statistics tracked down former inmates who were set free in 1983 and 1994. The total number of the released prisoners used for the 1983 study was 108,580 who were spread out across 11 states; while the 1994 data consisted of 272,111 former inmates within 15 states. Out of the total inmates freed in 1983, 62.5 percent were apprehended for a crime within a span of 3 years after their release. Further, 67.5 percent of the inmates set free in 1994 were taken back into custody within 3 years; a 5 percent recidivism rate increase in a decade.
However, since there are those who are acquitted after facing a charge, it’s crucial to look at the re-conviction statistics. At least 47 percent of the inmates who were released in 1983 and re-arrested within 3 years were reconvicted and sent back to prison. Additionally, 51.8 percent of the prisoners who were released in 1994 and re-arrested went back to prison after being found guilty for committing a new crime or violating their parole.
Another recent study was done by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2005. This particular study tracked 404,638 inmates who were released in 2005 within 30 states. The studies concluded the following statistics:
- Most of the former inmates were re-arrested within 1 year after their release; 56.7 percent, or rather more than half of the total number.
- 8 percent or at least two-thirds of former inmates were re-arrested within 3 years after their release in 2005.
- At least three-quarter or precisely 76.6 percent of the former inmates were apprehended for a new crime within half a decade after their release.
- Prisoners who committed property crime were the most likely to relapse since 82.1 percent were re-arrested. In contrast, 76.9 percent of inmates who were convicted for drug-related crimes found themselves taken back to custody for a new crime followed by 73.6 percent of previously convicted public order criminals and 71.3 percent of violent crime felons respectively.
Recidivism Rates: The Present
The most recent recidivism rates report was released by the Office of Policy and Management. In the report, 60 percent of former prisoners who were released in 2014 were re-apprehended 3 years for a new crime after their sentence was over. Nevertheless, that’s a slight decline from the statistics of the inmates who were released in 2005.
In light of the study, 53 percent of the re-arrested inmates went back to prison, three points lower than those released in 2005 and one point less than the 2008 and 2011 recidivism rates. However, an inmate returning to prison doesn’t mean it was a case of a new crime but it can also involve a parole violation.
Moreover, the Criminal Justice-Policy and Planning-Division, otherwise known as the CJPPD studies recidivism rates pattern every three years. For instance, young inmates are more likely to recidivate more often than older prisoners; hence if young people avoid going to prison, there would be a lower recidivism rate.
The latest policies to reduce recidivism rates have been implemented in most states across the United States. Mostly, the emphasis is focusing on prison reform programs that are designed to reduce recidivism especially for violent and career felons. Alternatively, there are inmates who get their prison sentences reduced through the RREC program on good behavior merit. Although convicted felons serving time for the most violent crimes are disqualified from the RREC program.
Despite the RREC program putting efforts to counter recidivism rates, it has recently come under intense criticism due to the early released inmates going back to committing serious crimes such as murders, rape, and assault.
Another recidivism rate reduction program known as the Young Adult Offender Program based in Connecticut focuses on young inmates; the most likely to relapse back to criminal behavior due to their impulsive nature. Under the program, a facility is designed to accommodate prisoners between 18 to 25 years who are closely mentored and given a chance to reconnect with their families with an aim to rehabilitate.
In retrospect, such programs also involve educating and training the prisoners to fit different job skills, helping them write resumes and giving them vocational opportunities. However, there is still much to be done since most present-day ex-convicts revert to committing felonies.
Recidivism Rates: The Future
The likelihood of an inmate to commit a new crime is moving towards risk assessment tools which use algorithms to determine recidivism rates. Hence, such risk assessment methods are used in pretrial, sentencing and parole decision making.
For example, the Correctional-Offender Management-Profiling for Alternative-Sanctions, otherwise known as COMPAS, is a type of risk assessment tool which has been used to analyze more than a million ex-convicts since 2000. One of the core objectives of the COMPAS software is to predict the likelihood of an inmate to commit a felony or misdemeanor at least 2 years after release based on certain features and criminal record.
However, there have been arguments that the COMPAS tool is not reliable compared to human prediction. A recent report published by ProPublica examined the competency of COMPAS’s prediction on more than 7,000 candidates and concluded the tool is racially biased and non-reliable. In the assessment, it was found out that COMPAS wrongly predicted the recidivism rates of black individuals with an error margin of 44.9 percent yet the likelihood of white defendants to commit a new crime was incorrectly predicted at 23.5 percent. To put into perspective, the report published by ProPublica suggests COMPAS seems to favor white inmates over black inmates.
However, Northpointe, the brainchild behind COMPAS, counter-argues the prediction doesn’t consider race to determine recidivism rates. Instead, the argument was raised on the fact that COMPAS also considers other factors when predicting the recidivism rate. Additionally, it was also noted that in Broward County where the study was done, black inmates have a higher recidivism rate than white inmates; the same statistics is true when it comes down to the national average.
Regardless, the debate of predicting recidivism rate in the future is heated on which method is better; humans or algorithmic assessment? Even so, the algorithmic assessment has been found to only reach an optimal performance of 65 percent accuracy, which is almost similar to human prediction. For that reason, it can be deduced that until there is better risk assessment tool that will be introduced in the future with little margin or no room for error, there will still be questions raised on the reliability of algorithms to predict recidivism rates.
What Can We Infer From All These
One thing clearly stands out; there is a pattern when it comes to predicting recidivism rates. For instance, felons who have abused drugs and alcohol have a high likelihood to recidivate, just like ex-convicts with low education credits. Another aspect to watch out when assessing recidivism rates is psychopathy tendencies among former prisoners. In the regards, ex-convicts with psychopath personality disorder are very likely to repeat offenses and get sent back to prison.
In the same scope, robbery and property offenders are more likely to repeat an offense compared to those convinced of sexual and violent crimes. Nevertheless, the inaccurate precision of predicting recidivism rates could open up more room for improvements in future and strategies on how to prevent repetitive offenders.
Another way to look at it would be to change the prison system to reduce recidivism rates. Definitely, most former inmates revert back to criminal behavior due to having fewer opportunities when it comes to finding a job. Alternatively, it could also mean that instead of rehabilitating prisoners, incarceration is more likely to make people worse, hence the high number of recidivism rates.
There also should be more priority on inmates with mental illness and drug-related problems that are more likely to revert back to their old ways. Apparently, inmates who enroll in a substance abuse treatment program are less likely recidivate compared to inmates who are not involved in any program. The same can also be said of inmates who don't participate in follow up programs after getting released from prison. Although technical parole offenses still remain a major hurdle for recently released prisoners, the benefits of support programs and supervisions can't be ignored in trying to prevent a crime relapse.
Certainly, completely eradicating recidivism rates seems like an impossible mission, the collection of still data plays a crucial role to determine the most effective way forward. However, the best way to ascertain recidivism doesn’t occur is to prevent that first offense. In other words, we should be more proactive to the issue than just reacting after the fact.