Blog: Recidivism

The Real Roots of Prison Recidivism

Editor's note: this article originally appeared on Huffington Post and is reprinted with permission.
Numbers are tricky. Studies are done. Reports are written. Statistics released. And then people take the numbers and run with them, waving them like protest placards claiming how the numbers prove or disprove some long held "truth." The Right does it. The Left does it. We all do it. Maybe there's a tiny toggle in the human genome that manipulates us to manipulate the numbers. That's why I've never liked numbers, never trusted them.
I saw this all play out in a recent Boston Globe Op-Ed piece about the high rates of recidivism in U.S. prisons. Using the most recent data from the Bureau of Statistics, the numbers roll out: Within six months of being freed 28 percent of former prisoners were arrested for a new crime; three years, 68 percent; five years, 77 percent. Twenty-nine percent of the returnees had been arrested for violent offenses; 38 percent for property crimes; 39 percent for drug offenses; 58 percent for public order crimes. I think everyone would agree that the numbers paint a pretty bleak picture.
But this is where the numbers get tricky. The article insists that these statistics prove that efforts at prison reform and rehabilitation don't work. Criminal justice experts have been searching for the "holy grail of rehabilitation" for years -- 40 according to one expert quoted -- and nothing has worked. The article then goes on to suggest that since this holy grail is so elusive, since so many criminals leave prison "only too ready to offend again," we have no option but to continue our present practice of mass incarceration, thus maintaining the U.S.' global position of locking up 25 percent of the world's prison population while being only 5 percent of its general population.

Florida: Wansley Walters Video on Juvenile Justice Reform

While we need to hold teens accountable for their actions, simply locking them up isn’t effective. Young people in the juvenile justice system need more treatment, better treatment, and support beyond treatment.
I encourage you to watch this brief interview with Wansley Walters, secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. In the video, Secretary Walters shares her views on the importance of early assessments and prescriptive measures in juvenile justice reform. We need to continue this investment to stay on track and reduce crime. "As the resources pull away, the problem starts to creep back in," Walters says.  


Juvenile Justice Aftercare Program Shows Success in Florida and Beyond

Youth exiting juvenile justice residential placements are often thrust back into their home communities without a support system leading to high rates of recidivism and likely pushing the youth deeper into the juvenile justice system. Eckerd recognized this missing link and funded Florida’s first aftercare service for youth in the 1990’s. This service was subsequently noticed by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and instituted statewide. Since that time, Eckerd has expanded aftercare services throughout Florida and in other states to include North Carolina and Texas. Eckerd’s Juvenile Justice Aftercare services provide transition and case management support for youth and families prior to and upon exit of residential treatment programs. Millions in cost savings from subsequent residential and detention placements have been realized, and outstanding outcomes have been achieved to include:

  • Social Skills Improvements 85%
  • Mental Health Improvements 89% (NC and TX)
  • Youth Satisfaction 100%
  • Parent Satisfaction 100%
  • Recidivism 16% (FL)

The Unique Challenge of Georgia Juvenile Repeat Crime

The devil is always in the details and sometimes details are like trying to put lipstick on a pig. The recidivism rate for Georgia juveniles is a case in point.
One-in-two juveniles leave the system and do not return within three years. But one-in-two are back within three years, usually because of a new crime, violation of a court order or a probation offense. There is a cash cost for that level of failure and there also is a human cost.
When the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform convened this summer it heard primarily generalities about juvenile justice from expert analysts. When the Council met this week it was taken into the weeds, deeper into data, and some members had their eyes opened a bit wider.
“The question is what do we do from here and how do we improve the recidivism rate,” said Hall County Superior Court Judge Jason Deal. “The recidivism rate is around 50 percent and that’s not acceptable.” State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver described the one-in-two recidivism rate as “very scary” and Douglas County District Attorney David McDade asked, “Are we spending our dollars in a way that protects public safety? That’s the whole driver for me.”

Goldman Sachs Invests $10M in Social Impact Bond to Reduce NYC Teen Recidivism Rates

Goldman Sachs is investing almost $10 million in a government program to reduce recidivism rates among adolescent men.
Earlier today, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that Goldman Sachs would provide a $9.6 million loan to pay for a new four year program to reduce the rate at which teen boys incarcerated at Rikers Island reoffend. Goldman Sachs is providing the financing through a social impact bond and will only be repaid if the program reduces recidivism rates by more than 10%. Currently, nearly 50% of the young men released from Rikers reoffend within one year.
According to the New York Times:

The Goldman money will be used to pay MDRC, a social services provider, to design and oversee the program. If the program reduces recidivism by 10 percent, Goldman would be repaid the full $9.6 million; if recidivism drops more, Goldman could make as much as $2.1 million in profit; if recidivism does not drop by at least 10 percent, Goldman would lose as much as $2.4 million.

Measuring Milwaukee County Juvenile Justice Recidivism

To what should Milwaukee County attribute its declining adult and juvenile detention population? This question took shape in a research brief published a year ago by the Public Policy Forum, entitled Milwaukee County Detainee Populations at Historic Lows: Why is it happening and what does it mean? In that report, the Forum urged county law enforcement officials and policymakers to consider whether justice system policies that may have contributed to the decline were effective and should be sustained.
Milwaukee County’s Delinquency and Court Services Division (DCSD) asked the Forum to help in making that assessment for the array of services it offers to youth in the juvenile justice system. Success in curbing repeat delinquent behavior can have impacts into adulthood, making the juvenile justice system one critical piece in efforts to control crime and its related costs.
The most common way to assess the success of juvenile delinquency programming is to measure the extent to which participants commit additional crimes, otherwise known as recidivism. However, the best approach to defining a recidivistic event is not always clear cut, with many variations seen nationally.
The Forum’s newest research brief reviews the manner in which DCSD defines recidivism and its progress in reducing it. The following points summarize our findings: