Utah Sees Gains in Stubborn Problem of Prisoner Recidivism


The Deseret News uses the example of a Utah ex-convict who turned his life around to illustrate how criminal justice reforms are improving recidivism rates in that state. The man said he was able to change his behavior through the support of innovative government treatment programs, family support and religious conviction. More than 40 percent of U.S. inmates are back in prison within three years of release. With 57 percent of inmates coming back for a second round behind bars, Utah has the second highest recidivism rate in the country. But its rate dropped almost 19 percent over the past decade — the second biggest improvement nationally.

America’s prison populations have swelled over the last 30 years, growing 705 percent between 1973 and 2009, according to the Pew Center on the States. State and federal corrections spending, ringing in at about $52 billion last year, exploded right along with it. One in 14 general fund dollars now goes toward the prison system. One in eight state employees works for a corrections agency. Despite the increased funding, though, in at least one way, America’s prison systems are failing the public: a large share of inmates aren’t leaving jail on the road to a changed life. Yet all the spending has had a “barely noticeable impact on the rate of offenders returning to prison,” said one Pew expert.

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