Is There a Link Between Recidivism and Rising Crime?

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Government officials are not paying sufficient attention to the problem of repeat criminality in the U.S., said Ted Gest, The Crime Report’s Washington Bureau Chief, in an appearance last weekend on C-SPAN.

Photo by Puamella via Flickr

Photo by Puamella via Flickr

Gest, who appeared October 1 on the network’s program “Washington Journal,” hosted by Bill Scanlan, said individuals released from prison are still returning to custody at high rates, a phenomenon known as recidivism—which indicates not enough is being done in correctional institutions to provide education, job training and drug treatment.

Gest was responding to a caller’s contention that much of the nation’s crime increase is due to lenient judges. “Judges are not the problem,” Gest said. Rather, the issue in many states and the federal justice system is sentencing laws that call for long prison terms and a lack of programming behind bars to help inmates emerge very much improved over the way then entered.

Ted Gest

Ted Gest

The main issue discussed on the program was the FBI’s crime count for 2015, which was issued last week. The FBI said that violent crime reports to police departments around the U.S. were up nearly 4 percent, and homicides jumped nearly 11 percent. Gest noted that projections by private organizations, including the Brennan Center for Justice and the Major Cities Chiefs Association, have forecast that overall homicides and violent crime will continue to rise in 2016, led by a few cities, primarily Chicago.

In response to questions by Scanlan and viewers, Gest said that experts have found it difficult to pinpoint the reasons for the recent crime increase, generally theorizing that it is a combination of factors, including gangs, conflicts among drug sellers, the easy availability of guns, and persistent poverty in inner cities, where much of the crime is occurring.

The relatively new factor is the attention given to shootings of civilians by police officers, he said.

The resulting turmoil in several cities probably has contributed to rising crime, particularly through what has been labeled the “Ferguson effect”–the idea that as a result of disturbances after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014, police officers in some areas have been less aggressive and people have been emboldened to commit more crime.

One caller said it was incorrect for the news media to imply that most shootings by police involve black victims. Gest said it is correct that blacks are only a minority of those killed, but they are involved disproportionately in such incidents. (The Washington Post has reported that in  2015, black men made up only 6 percent of the U.S. population but accounted for 40 percent of the unarmed men shot to death by police.)

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