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Recidivism and dueling studies

I wrote about prison reform in the US two weeks ago in a post that focused on life imprisonment for crimes committed when offenders were 14 years old or younger. In that post, I referenced a paper from the JFA Institute that makes a case for much broader prison reforms, arguing that recidivism rates are lower than the general public believes, and arguing that a comprehensive approach to prison reform, including shorter sentences and less post-release supervision is a good strategy for shrinking US prison populations.

One of the most striking statistics in the JFA paper is the assertion that, according to a referenced study, only 1% of new violent crimes are committed by released prisoners. My friend Nathan Kurz found that statistic odd and downloaded and read the study footnoted as the source for that stat, a 2002 Department of Justice study titled, “Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1994”. That study comes to a very different conclusion: that recidivism of released prisoners is a major factor in crime.

Nate looks closely at the apparent disconnect between the conclusions of the DOJ study and the JFA study and observes that, “…using a report showing that 47% of the released prisoners studied were reconvicted for a new crime within three years as evidence that ‘rates of return to serious crime are not high’ seems at best disingenuous. Maybe one of the authors of the report could offer a more charitable interpretation…”

Maybe. I’m hoping to forward this question to some of the reports’ authors with links to his and my posts on the paper. The JFA paper has gotten some media attention in the past few weeks, and is authored by a number of respected academics. It’s hard to believe that they’d simply misquote a report’s conclusions. My hope is that, instead, they’re doing a different interpretation of the data set used in the DOJ paper… but if that’s the case, it should be made much clearer in the JFA document.

I’m a firm believer that there needs to be major reconsideration of how the US incarcerates prisoners, and I’d very much like to believe JFA’s assertion that recidivism is very rarely a problem. But having numbers you agree with is less important than having correct numbers… in this case, I don’t know enough about prison reform to know whether the DOJ report should be taken at face value (it’s clearly written with a very strong pro-incarceration agenda), whether there’s been work on reinterpreting its findings, and how JFA is drawing conclusions from those numbers. Anyone who’s knowledgeable in this field, please weigh in and set me (and Nate) on the right path.

2 thoughts on “Recidivism and dueling studies”

  1. “47% of the released prisoners studied were reconvicted for a new crime within three years.” That mean instead of solving the problem we are making it even higher. I think it is important to change the person system so that when the prisoner come out they will become a better citizen. I think the solution is education. If the prisoner learn more about life and the important work and education. They will not engage in criminal. If we just arrested some one for ten years and when coming out form person — funding his wife marring other person and getting good job impossible what we expected the person to do?

  2. After spending the last 7 years with the Feds: 1 FPC 1 FCI, 2 halfway houses, 2 times on home confinement I was able to research and investigate just how deficient and frivolous the system really is first hand. With a background in psychology and criminology I turned this into a research project. I now know why recidivism is up to nearly 70%. Not only are the programs in prison that prepare you for the “transformation process” inadequate but society is also a key ingredient for recidivism. Stigmatization not only locks the doors but steel bolts them for anybody with a criminal background. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out without a job, and the pressures probation puts on you, it’s no wonder 7 out of 10 ex-cons return back to prison I have this innate desire to assist others through this transformations process and into a more productive and prosperous lifestyle My problem was also obtaining employment. Seeing as I was stripped of all my licenses, and previous skills I had to start all over. So I created ans designed a reality based prison board game that parallels what one faces as they make their journey through the criminal justice system. The game is called PAROLE-BOARD “The Ultimate Game of Injustice” http://www.parole-board.com. It is riddled with humor, based on actual events, regulations, laws and sanctions. It is an educational game that shows one just hard how it is to get out of the system once you are in. I initially created this game to use the proceed to set up re-entry programs that actually work but due to stigmatization this game will help me rebuild my life along with others. Most of my proceeds will goto helping others coming out of prison.

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