An estimated two-thirds of prisoners released in 2005 were arrested for a new crime within three years, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics said today in the first major federal study of recidivism in nearly two decades.
More than three-quarters (77 percent) were arrested within five years.
The study covers 405,000 prisoners released by 30 states in 2005. More than one-third (37 percent) were arrested within six months of their release from prison, and more than half (57 percent) were arrested by the end of the first year. That corresponds with earlier research indicating that the highest chances of rearrest are soon after a prison release.
The new findings are based on a BJS data collection that tracked a sample of former prison inmates from 30 states. BJS cautioned that the new study couldn’t be compared directly to a widely quoted study issued in 2002 that said that sixty-seven percent of 272,111 inmates released in 1994 were arrested for at least one serious crime within three years.
The two inmate groups were different but the overall result of the studies was strikingly similar. They also seem consistent with a study issued three years ago by the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project, which found that 45.4 percent of people released from prison in 1999 and 43.3 percent of those freed in 2004 were reincarcerated within three years.
In the BJS study — which included inmates from different states — 49.7 percent returned to prison within three years and 55.1 percent within five years.
Pew’s percentages are lower because they count only ex-inmates who were sent back to prison. The BJS studies include everyone who was rearrested.
Still, BJS said that the “true” recidivism rate in the U.S. may have declined between the two major studies, because criminal justice record keeping has improved, with more computerized data and fewer paper arrest records. That suggests that more arrests would have been recorded after the turn of the century.
The “improvements would have resulted in higher observed recidivism rates in 2005 than in 1994, even if the two samples had the same true recidivism rates,” BJS said.
The new BJS study found that one-sixth (16 percent) of released prisoners were responsible for nearly half of the re-arrests. The longer that former prisoners went without being arrested, the less likely they were to be arrested at all during the follow-up period, BJS said.
Recidivism rates varied with inmates’ attributes. Prisoners released after serving time for a property offense were the most likely to recidivate. Within five years of release, 82 percent of property offenders were arrested for a new crime, compared with 77 percent of drug offenders, 74 percent of public order offenders and 71 percent of violent offenders.
Five years after release, black offenders had the highest recidivism rate (81 percent), compared with Hispanic (75 percent) and white (73 percent) offenders.
Recidivism rates fell with age. Within five years of release, 84 percent of inmates 24 or younger at release were arrested for a new offense, compared to 79 percent of inmates ages 25 to 39 and 69 percent of those 40 or older.
The 30 states that provided data are: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.
Unlike the 2011 Pew report, BJS did not provide comparative state recidivism data.