US Recidivism Rates Stay Sky High

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Seven in 10 incarcerated people released in 34 states in 2012 were rearrested within five years, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report on recidivism rates for prisoners in 34 states between 2012 and 2017.

The report includes grim findings about recidivism in the United States, where rates are among the highest in the world.

To approximate the U.S. prison population, BJS researchers used a random sample of 92,100 prisoners to represent the 408,300 state prisoners released across 34 states in 2012. These states were responsible for 79 percent of all people released from prisons in 2012 nationwide.

The findings are stark. Nearly half of prisoners released in 2012 returned to prison within five years for a parole or probation violation or a new sentence. In 2012, about 81 percent of prisoners aged 24 or younger were arrested within 5 years of release, compared to 74 percent of those between 25 to 39 and 61 percent of those over 40.

Although the annual arrest percentage of prisoners released in 2012 declined from 37 percent one-year post-release to 26 percent five years after release, between 2012 and 2017 an estimated 1.1 million arrests occurred among the 408,300 prisoners released in 2012.

The authors also break down the statistics by crime: sixty-two percent of drug offenders released from prison in 2012 were arrested for a non-drug crime within five years. About two-thirds of prisoners released after serving time for a violent offense were arrested for any crime within 5 years.

Of the over 400,000 prisoners who were arrested following release, 363,200 were men. Around 44 percent of rearrested prisoners were white, 36 percent were Black, 16 percent Hispanic, 1.5 percent American Indian and 0.6 percent Asian or Native Hawaiian.

The authors also confirmed some logical patterns. For instance, one in three prisoners released after serving time for assault were arrested for assault within 5 years. Additionally, prisoners released after serving time for a property offense were more likely than other released prisoners to be arrested for a property offense.

“A higher percentage of prisoners released after serving time for a property offense (52%) were arrested for a property offense within 5 years, compared to prisoners released after serving time for a violent (29 percent), drug (30 percent), or public order (29 percent) offense,” the authors write.

These findings offer a window into high recidivism rates across the U.S. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, structural barriers often impede formerly incarcerated people from successful re-entry. Difficulty finding employment, affordable housing, and physical and mental health care explain why people are often re-arrested a few years after release.

Targeted social programs may help reduce recidivism. In Los Angeles County, a supportive housing program established by the Office of Diversion improved housing stability and reduced criminal justice involvement, with impressive outcomes: 86 percent of participants had no new felony convictions after 12 months, according to a RAND study.

Programs like these might offer a remedy to the BJS statistics, though “inconsistencies in policing, charging, and supervision” also play a part in the inflated recidivism rates, the Prison Policy Initiative reports.

To access the BJS report and tables, click here.

Eva Herscowitz is a TCR justice reporting intern.

3 thoughts on “US Recidivism Rates Stay Sky High

  1. To lower recidivism you have to help offenders early. Not by just letting them out of jail but by providing evidence-based education. Here is a study that show with education, recidivism can drop as low as 25.7% after 2 years and 31% after 3. As well, many prosecutors out right dismissed or didn’t file cases when they could have taken the opportunity to educate and help the offender stay out of the criminal justice system in the future. (to obtain the study link, pls contact the poster–EDITORS)

  2. To have believable “ recidivism” statistics, we need to first define exactly what is meant as “ recidivism”. The first thing I would want to look at is the percentage that are counted as “recidivists” because of re-arrest due to a technical probation/parole violation. Given how nitpicking probation rules can be, many persons may be included in recidivism statistics for missing appointments with probation or with assigned therapy group or skipping drug tests or having a drink, moving to a new apartment without permission, quitting a job without permission or taking a job that has not been approved, failing to pay your fines and fees etc….Now that electronic monitoring is becoming ever more common…the incident counted as “recidivism” may be due to technical equipment failure…running out of battery power or not answering the phone ( which can ring any hour of day or night). A saying that was going around the Wharton School of the U. of Pennsylvania was “ There are 3 kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies, and…statistics! Everyone bandies statistics about…I want to know how they were gathered before deciding whether they are believable..certainly before basing policy on those numbers

  3. Focus needs be on the top 4 criminogenic factors: AntiSocial associates, AntiSocial attitudes and behaviors, Antisocial Hx and family relationships. In other words those w/serious crime hx need a holistic & environmental & social change to sustain change. Takes $ political will and patience. Plus skilled Social Workers to guide excons to be prosocial. Canada’s Sex Offender model of targeted tx, community support and best practices of R-N-R is the best example of how to facilitate real change.

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