Report promotes alternatives to prison as national recidivism rate holds steady
An inmate at California's Chino State Prison talks to a parole officer in the overcrowded dayroom.
April 13th, 2011
06:17 PM ET

Report promotes alternatives to prison as national recidivism rate holds steady

A state-by-state study has found that four in 10 offenders return to prison within three years of their release, a figure that has held steady for the past 30 years despite massive state spending increases on prisons, the Pew Center on the States said Wednesday.

Figures vary widely across the 33 states that provided data for "The Revolving Door of America's Prisons" report, with 17 states reporting a drop in recidivism rates, 15 claiming an increase and one reporting no change between 1999 and 2004. Oregon reported the steepest drop, at 31.9%, and South Dakota reported the highest increase, at 34.9%.

The number of offenders returning for new crimes also varied significantly among states, from 44.7% in Alaska to 4.7% in Montana, the report said. Technical violations of parole - such as failure to attend drug treatment or testing positive for drugs or alcohol - were similarly wide-ranging, from 40.3% in Missouri to 0% in Arkansas, the report said. Technical violations also accounted for the bulk of returns to prison.

The report attempts to highlight successful alternatives to incarceration in states that saw the biggest drops in recidivism, giving taxpayers "a solid return on their investment in public safety," said Adam Gelb, director of Pew's Public Safety Performance Project.

"We know so much more today than we did 30 years ago, when prisons became the weapon of choice in our country's fight against crime," Gelb said. "There are new technologies, new strategies that are far more effective and less expensive than $29,000-per-year taxpayer-funded prison cells."

Those new technologies include GPS systems that monitor the whereabouts of offenders and help enforce curfews; and automated kiosks, which allow offenders to check in with probation authorities without having to take time off from work or other responsibilities, Gelb said.

Other strategies, such as post-release treatment and supervision based on risk assessments, also can lead to greater reductions in recidivism rates, the report said.

Kansas, Oregon and Utah, which saw the biggest drops, have made concerted legislative efforts to implement what research shows will stop the "revolving door," Gelb said.

"The research clearly shows that if you swamp a low-risk offender with whole of bunch of conditions and requirements, you're going to probably end up making him worse," Gelb said. "But you can have a really substantial impact on high- and medium- risk offenders by targeting them the with right set of programs and interventions."

Providing incentives to corrections agencies and offenders also nets better results, Gelb said.

Creating an institutional culture that promotes tangible goals such as reducing recidivism and substance abuse and increasing employment among offenders encourages correctional agencies to track their performance, the report said.

"Right now, incentives are mostly backwards. When offenders are breaking rules, supervising agencies win by sending them back to prison and getting them off their caseloads. That needs to be flipped so agencies get rewarded with a share of savings when they reduce returns to prison," Gelb said.

The state of the economy has forced lawmakers to reconsider alternatives to incarceration.

"Fewer and fewer state policymakers think that spending more and more taxpayer dollars to build more and more prisons for nonviolent offenders is the best way to reduce crime and recidivism," he said. "I think we're going to see more states move toward new technology and new strategies that are more effective and less expensive in dealing with nonviolent offenders."

soundoff (66 Responses)
  1. leeintulsa

    Did it say employment? Ya might be able to get a construction jobs. If the economy turns around and those without felonies get jobs. And Sonic will hire you, maybe.

    An apartment to live in? Good luck. They are out there, but not as 'aplenty' as those of us who have never dealt with it might think.

    Alot of guys did stupid things when they were young. They know they were stupid. They've since straightened out, and made good dads. But they'll always be on food stamps. They have a concrete ceiling, and will never make as much as a non-felon.

    Aren't they supposed to have paid their debt to society?

    Working with the convict over incarceration is obviously a good thing. But the system has to change as well if people are gonna stay out of trouble.

    April 13, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christopher

      Totally agree there. How do we expect people to turn away from a true criminal life (one where they are physically harming other people, stealing from other people, or forcing other people to do or not do something that they do not or do wish to do) unless we give them the ability to find a well-paying job!
      The answer: we cannot.

      April 13, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dylan_the_Vylan

      @ leeintulsa: The system MUST change.. It MUST change simply because the American taxpayer, in this Economy, will not be able to afford to pay nearly $30,000 for each of it's more than 2,000,000 inmates indefinately..

      The system SHOULD change, however, because of many of the reasons listed in the above artice. A 40% recitivism rate proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the system simply DOES NOT WORK! The Correction Corporation of America is one of many private corporations hired by the government (US! our money!) to build and mantain prisons and to "rehabilitate" those convicted men, women and children in it's charge. (Incidently, they are also charged with gauranteeing the safety of those prisoners that they are paid to hold, and we all know how well they do THAT job.)

      If ANY other comapny in the U.S. had a product that consistently failed (often with deadly results, mind you) 40% of the time, they would be sued and the CEO's burned at the stake, just before they were audited, bankrupted and completely destroyed.

      The system WILL NOT change for the fact that companies such as The Corrections Corporation of America gives SO MUCH MONEY to the campaigns of those running for office, and the coffers and warchests of those who have already secured offices. Not only are companies like the CCA actively lobbying for contracts with our government, lobbying for lesser responsibility in the care of inmates, and lobbying for greater amounts of money from the taxpayers for each inmate they hold, but they also lobby directly to CHANGE OUR LAWS, not for any moral idealism, but simply to make the laws more strict so that they are able to get paid for more and more citizens who put themselves on the wrong sides of these laws.


      One more time: CCA spent $14.8 million lobbying the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Office of Management and Budget, the Bureau of Prisons, both houses of Congress, and others between 2003 and 2010 (source, Wikipedia) lobbying, PUSHING for stricter laws, so that they could lock more of US up, and fatten their wallets.. And many, many politicians are all too happy to oblige them. Why wouldn't they? They stand to fill their own pockets with CCA cash (recycled, essentially laundered taxpayer money) for going along! They play CCA's game, scratching eachothers backs while they endlessly study the lawbooks, looking for loopholes and laws that they could twiek, (Or simply have new laws put on the books, just for them) to put more and more Americans in prison every year.

      I don't always agree with Bill Maher, but here's a quote: "Prisons used to be a non-profit business... The CCA and similar corporations actually lobby Congress for stiffer sentencing laws so they can lock more people up and make more money. That's why America has the world's largest prison population - because actually rehabilitating people would have a negative impact on the bottom line." -Maher.

      Bill Maher's right on this one.

      Americans are told that prisons are to rehabilitate criminals. This is a lie. Those operating prisons have NO desire to rehabilitate Criminals; that would negatively impact their profits. Instead, privately held prisons systems ACTIVELY make it easier for American Citizens to end up in prisons, more dificult for X-Cons to Stay out of prisons, and constantly search for new ways to make more and more activities illegal, chopping away at our freedoms, so that they can get rich.

      On OUR backs with OUR tax dollars, with OUR blood spilled in dank prison cells, tightening the legal noose on OUR children, breaking up OUR families, stripping away OUR freedoms, bit by bit, to line THEIR pockets..

      Every year since 2003, the Corrections Corporation of America has posted Record Profits...

      April 14, 2011 at 2:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Specter

      Reform our drug laws and the recidivism rate will instantly drop. We could lay off some of those overpaid prison guards because there will be less prisoners, instantly saving tax payers lots of $. If obama had any balls he would show some leadership and do that. Instead he argues about chump change and reforms health care costing us even more money.

      April 14, 2011 at 3:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Dave Ladely

      As a prison researcher, I have toured prisons in 31 countries. Of all the modern, industrialized countries, the USA has the most inmates per capita by a wide margin, and the worst recividism. Efforts at rehabilitation are mostly PR, and training is a joke. In addition, a felony conviction closes the door on most jobs. The American philosophy regarding punishment is primitive and generally vengeful, with little or no foresight considering almost all inmates will be released. Those who are vengeful are seldom satisfied with any sentence, however long, expensive, and counterproductive for the future, and pay only lip service to rehabilitation and the future possible contributions that ex-convicts may provide to society. They want the ex-convict to be forever punished and crippled, much like those of midievel times. Compared to the success of nations such as Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and other modern nations, the United States is more like Russa. With about the same success. As long as our nation lusts for vengeance and a "throw the key away" answer to even non-violent crimes, the ex-cons know that, whatever the PR, they are marked forever and never forgiven. Confronted with this atmosphere and effective blackballing, many will react accordingly, and with predictable results. Of course, when then officials and politicians who support the "hard time" vindictive sentencing policies wind up in prison for whatever reason, they decry the future outlook the face. American prison policies are self-defeating, expensive, hypocritical and are a determined effort to "cut off our noses to spite our faces", extremely short sighted, but, then, nor national outlook on life tends to be short sighted, doesn't ti??

      April 16, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dylan_the_Vylan

      @ Dave : I appreciate your insight as a prison researcher. As a (currently) amateur criminal justice researcher, I fully agree with your opinions. Overzealous politicians, perhaps meaning well, but obviously either ignorant or indifferent, have caused this situation after campaign promises to be "Tough on crime". They simply do not care enough about the human beings that have been convicted (or in some instances, simply accused) of committing a crime to look into the matter further. According to all I've learned on the subject, they have callously exacerbated the situation. Thanks for sharing, Dave.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
  2. MrMailman

    I agree with you leeintulsa, but most in prison are people that were not raised in traditional family homes with family values. Most of these men are from fatherless homes with no direction in their life because they never had anyone to look up too. In prison they look up to the leader in their cell block and will have this type of mindset out when they are free. Their loyalty is to the leader that they had in prison. There are few out there with good family values that would like to contribute to society once again. Most become bitter towards authority type figures.

    Ever kept a dog in a cage? Humans will become animals if confined for long periods of time.

    April 13, 2011 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • S1N

      And your statistics would come from? I only ask because it seems your blowing smoke out of your @ss.

      April 13, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
  3. HunchaR

    The state of our nations affairs when it comes to the incarcerated and those who have been incarcerated are sad. Yes of course there are those who are repeat offenders, those who border on sociopathic, and no matter what will end up back behind bars. Just as there are those who make mistakes who upon getting out of prison are forever labeled a felon and cannot get a solid and stable job to seriously support themselves or a family if they have one. In prison the inmates are housed in "cages" and when treated like animals will come out acting as such. A complete overhaul of our jails, prisons and their regulations are the first step to rehabilitation.

    April 13, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. esreddy3

    well no shiitt shirley. Prisons only work to pizz off already unstable people.

    April 13, 2011 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dim Mak

    Education requirements for probationers and parolees would help big time. Leeintulsa is right that people need real opportunities and not to be kicked when they are down. Israel has a very low recidivism rate, because they educate convicts and find them jobs after they are released. If someone gets an associates degree before being released then they are probably not going to return to the gutter. The courts could seal someone's record after the convict has fully paid their debt, so they won't be passed over for gainful employment. Americans would never tolerate a system that works, because they feel a criminal is not worthy of forgiveness. Imperfect societies love having bad guys to point fingers at, so the finger pointers can distract from their own flaws. The only reason people watch Jerry Springer or Cops is to feel superior.

    April 13, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Charlie

    They either end up back in prison, or working for TSA.

    April 13, 2011 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
  7. manny296

    Let's face it, criminals in United States know for a fact that elected officials love to spend trillions of tax payers money for convicted criminal programs while they do time in prison.. Fact: all countries south of the border have a fraction of convicted criminals returning to prison because prison in those countries is not fun experience like the American prisons. American prisons have air conditioned rooms, free cable TV, Free Dental, Free Medical, Free Security, Prison stores... prisoners have more benefits than most American College students.. The Governor of California spent billions of dollars for a state of the art prison dental care for convicts.. This dental clinic is the same type of dental care congress, the U.S. president gets... Thanks to the Governor of California.

    April 13, 2011 at 11:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hi-Density

      Yeah, with all that free stuff that so many of us have to strugle for at least some, it sounds like maybe a good place to live versud a nursing home. JK but really ya' know...

      April 14, 2011 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
  8. Sherri

    I worked in a men's prison and heard about where they came from and what they had to go back to. Not pretty. Also, many cannot read, or have very low education, and stats show that many committed their act while under the influence. So there are many issues. Then you now have a criminal record, which severely limits what kind of job you can get. And then you get released and go back to your old neighborhood, with the old 'friends'. It's a losing battle. I'm kind of surprised that more don't end up back in prison. Also, I can't tell you how many times we saw men, who were due to get released in days, do something to get revoked back to a more secure facility. Freedom is scary to some people.

    April 13, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steven Sheldon

      An articulate response and eye opening... Thank you for sharing.

      April 14, 2011 at 2:57 am | Report abuse |
  9. manny296

    More and more people with good paying jobs are turning to crime. White color crime is on the increase in United States. This means that having a good job does not mean less criminals..

    April 13, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      "White color crime"... is that a racist statement, or did you mean "white collar crime?"

      April 14, 2011 at 7:27 am | Report abuse |
  10. Marc

    Thanks to the Correctional Officers Union and their lobby we have more prisoners so the guards will keep working and have lots of overtime with very high salaries and fantastic benefit. The first thing we can do is get rid of the Unions completely. Then we can acquire more technologies to modernize how we treat criminals. It is no wonder that California is going bankrupt with all our prison facilities where convicts only get worse. One prison San Quinton makes the old tower of London, or Bedlam look like the Fairmont Hotel. Our Society remember lives in the dark ages. t

    April 13, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
  11. cjygudwin

    The main benefit tax payers get in having large numbers of violent drug addicts in prison is the reduction in the number of years prisoners have to produce more offspring. Jobs don't solve the problem. Getting clean and sober solves the problem. Less than 2% of ex-convicts stay clean&sober. The number is so low it is worth asking if investing a fortune in drug treatment is a waste of public resources.

    April 13, 2011 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
  12. duder

    Not that big of a deal guys. They have good dope, potato vodka. You can't smoke cigarettes so you just play hokey to take your mind off.

    April 13, 2011 at 11:51 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Lewy

    Here's my plan to cut that recidivism rate to ZERO: Don't ever let them out in the first place. Simple.

    April 14, 2011 at 12:10 am | Report abuse |
    • ryan

      Your an idiot.

      April 14, 2011 at 1:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Josh C.

      I know how you feel about felons and what you consider the lowest of the low. There are reasons society has created them. Whether it's through asinine laws or because we think we didn't have a hand in it so it isn't my fault. Your wrong society, because a total generalization is inconsistent. Think about those with mental illness and how it is construed in a bad light all because of an act by someone who really needs help. Murderers that have definitive proof by all dna accounts should be shot on sight instead of trying to appeal something that is definitive. Our sciences have advanced and DNA does not lie. Legalize marijuana and don't turn a blind eye to someone really trying their hardest to succeed. Once their time is up they have to some way or another contribute to society and if they can't get a decent job they go back to what they know. Don't turn a blind eye because your paying for their stay whether you like it or not.

      April 14, 2011 at 3:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      It makes me chuckle when I see people say "Your an idiot." How can you call someone else an idiot when you don't even know the difference between "your" and "you're?"

      April 14, 2011 at 7:29 am | Report abuse |
  14. chris

    and the liberals keep fighting to get them released early. of course they don't want them living in their neighborhoods though.

    April 14, 2011 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
  15. chris

    prison needs to be a deterrent. make it tough on the prisoners and maybe they will try to reform.

    April 14, 2011 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
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