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April 13, 2011

Important new Pew report discusses the "State of Recidivism"

As detailed in this press release, the Pew Center on the States has just produced this important new report titled "State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons." Here is an overview of the report from the start of the press release:

Despite massive increases in state spending on prisons, America’s national recidivism rate is stubbornly high, with more than four in 10 offenders returned to state prison within three years of their release, according to a new report by the Pew Center on the States. State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons found that while the overall figures are discouraging, several states have made significant progress in reducing recidivism through a variety of evidence-based strategies.

In the first ever state-by-state survey of recidivism rates, state corrections data show that nearly 43 percent of prisoners released in 2004, and 45 percent of those released in 1999 were reincarcerated within three years, either for committing a new crime or violating the terms of their supervised release.

Pew’s findings have significant implications for policy makers struggling with painful budget choices.  State corrections spending, driven almost entirely by prison expenditures, has quadrupled over the past two decades, making it the second fastest growing area of state budgets, trailing only Medicaid.  Total state spending on corrections today is more than $50 billion a year.

“There’s been an enormous escalation in prison spending but a barely noticeable impact on the national recidivism rate,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States. “Some states like Texas have begun to shift dollars into strategies for nonviolent offenders that cost less than prison and are more effective at stopping the revolving door. These troubling national figures should accelerate the trend toward policies that will give taxpayers a better public safety return on their massive expenditure on incarceration.”

The Pew survey methodology differs from the last national study of recidivism rates conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in 1994, which found 52 percent of released prisoners were back within three years. While differences in survey methods complicate direct comparisons of national recidivism rates over time, a comparison of the states included in both the Pew and BJS studies reveals that recidivism rates have been largely stable. When California, whose size skews the national picture, is excluded from both studies recidivism rates between 1994 and 2007 have consistently remained around 40 percent.

April 13, 2011 at 09:56 AM | Permalink

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How in the world do politicians ever expect to reduce the recidivism rate if they continue to introduce stupid legislation that prohibits ex-offenders from seeking meaningful employment?

Two bills currently pending in Tennessee, HB 1070 by Rep. Barrett Rich & SB 0901 by Senator Bo Watson is a case in point. As introduced the legislation prohibits any board under the division of health related boards from issuing or renewing a license to a health care professional or applicant who might engage in direct patient care when that professional or applicant has been convicted of a felony.

Read all about it at the following link:
http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/default.aspx?BillNumber=HB1070&GA=107

There has to be some understanding by politicians of the difference between a "FELON" and a felony offense. There is Charles Manson, a "FELON" and there is Martha Stewart who committed a felony offense. Of course, the one should be put away forever but the other......... Is there a real threat here?

These two Tennessee politicos are, like so many other "tough on crime" proponents, only looking at the benefit to their own political careers. They make no distinction between a violent and non-violent offense and pay no heed to the damage being done to those ex-offenders and their families who only want, and deserve, a chance to put their lives back in order.

The fiscal impact statement section of the legislation makes the outrageous statement that the fiscal impact to the state is "Not Significant". Perhaps not to the immediate loss of revenue to Tennessee but what about the loss of the ability to make a living and support a family. What about the future expense to Tennessee if, because of government roadblocks, the ex-offender becomes a welfare recipient or worse commits another crime and is returned to the state prison system? What now of the fiscal impact?

Rather than placing more roadblocks in the path of ex-offenders, the State of Tennessee and the country would be better served if these representatives would get behind the initiative of Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen and his "Fresh Start Act". This is common sense legislation that will give first time non-violent offenders a real second chance at becoming productive taxpaying citizens.

Posted by: Thomas | Apr 13, 2011 11:16:33 AM

Since the late 1970's, prisons have made no pretense they are in the reformation or rehabilitation business.

They are simply a means of incapacitation and should not be judged on the recidivist rates of their inmates.

Posted by: mjs | Apr 13, 2011 1:37:57 PM

mjs,

Not true. Many if not most, prison systems explicitly lay claim to being in the business of rehabilitating prisoners. In fact, The California Department of Corrections (CDC), actually changed its name in 2005 to become the CDCR, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. A very absurd pretense given the way the Department is actually run, but the Department most definitely lays claim to "rehabilitation", nonetheless.

Posted by: anonymous | Apr 13, 2011 2:42:23 PM

The switch to determinate sentencing in the federal system was the deathknell of the rehabilitation model. Most, but not all of the state systems followed. In any event, most practitioners would concede that rehabilitation can not be coaxed, cajoled or coerced.

Posted by: mjs | Apr 13, 2011 3:24:15 PM

Rehabilitation requires, first and foremost, a change of heart. Anyone here think that a government program can change a person's heart?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 13, 2011 3:26:01 PM

"Anyone here think that a government program can change a person's heart?"

No Bill, no "program" can change a person's heart. But, the government can do a hell of a lot better job of removing road blocks rather than placing more in the path of those who have had a change of heart.

Posted by: Thomas | Apr 13, 2011 3:59:04 PM

Thomas --

A person who has had a genuine change of heart will find his way, with or without the government.

I have told this story before on this forum: I live the winters in Hawaii. I have a pricey house in Northern Virginia, and the fellow who takes care of it while I'm gone (indeed, lives in it while I'm gone) went to Maine State Prison for getting in a fistfight with a State Trooper. But I know him to be an honest and forthright person, so for many years I have employed him as my house manager.

I have no idea what Maine did or did not do for "rehabilitation." I know who he is, and that's all I need. When he gives me a bill for work he's done around the house and grounds, I don't even look at it. I just pay it, knowing that he plays it straight.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 13, 2011 4:23:46 PM

mjs: "In fact, The California Department of Corrections (CDC), actually changed its name in 2005 to become the CDCR, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. A very absurd pretense given the way the Department is actually run, but the Department most definitely lays claim to "rehabilitation", nonetheless."

California only changed the name because of case law at the time that found some statutes under the penal code in other states were punitive and therefore not civil regulations. California changed its penal code (from the sole purpose of punishment and added rehabilitation) at the same time it changed its DOC name.

And, yes, some government programs can change people's hearts (pdf). Maybe it has something to do with lead by example.

Posted by: George | Apr 13, 2011 4:51:11 PM

I agree with Bill Otis that “A person who has had a genuine change of heart will find his way, with or without the government.”

Having said that, there is no good reason why government should put pointless obstacles in their way. Once we have decided to let them out of prison, it helps no one (the offender or Society) to make it overly difficult for them to succeed. The fact of a conviction on their record is obstacle enough.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Apr 13, 2011 5:29:38 PM

"A person who has had a genuine change of heart will find his way, with or without the government."

Probably very true if everyone was willing, like you, to provide menial employment and if all ex-offenders were, like your employee, willing to be satisfied by menial employment. For those who held a little higher station in life prior to their conviction or those who simply wish to seek employment that is more meaningful your handout just is not good enough.

Of course there are and will always be the haves and have not's and plenty of folks willing to see that it remains that way by continuing to place roadblocks, like the previously referenced Tennessee law, in their path. Marc Shepherd has it right when he says that "it helps no one (the offender or Society) to make it overly difficult for them to succeed." No one that is, except maybe the well to do person who is able to hire cheap labor because the law of the land prevents the cheap laborer from being able to do better.

Posted by: Thomas | Apr 13, 2011 6:24:38 PM

Bill -

That's admirable of you, but you're the (very, very small) exception, not the rule. A friend of mine owns a janitorial company that employs a large number of unskilled workers. He would love to hire ex-cons, but his clients absolutely forbid it. If you come out of prison and can't get a job even mopping floors, where else are you going to go? Not everyone knows a lawyer who winters in Hawaii.

Admittedly, both our stories are anecdotal, but if you ask around, I think you'll find that a lot of companies refuse to hire ex-cons. Some just don't say it publicly.

It would be great if a "change of heart" alone was enough.

Posted by: SRS | Apr 13, 2011 6:25:44 PM

Some on this blog would have us believe that the majority of offenders reentering society have the discipline and ability to delay gratification to complete a job training program and work their way up from the bottom of an organization if only the big, bad, government would get out of their way.

Not my experience.

Posted by: mjs | Apr 13, 2011 7:50:58 PM

When you say recidivism, it's a problem. First each prosecution represents one tenth of crimes committed. Second only a small number of prosecutions result in prison time. So there may be 100 crimes for each recidivistic crime, and the rate may really be 100% of recommitting crimes.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 13, 2011 8:47:47 PM

"Not my experience."

Perhaps not the majority but would you deny those who do have the discipline and ability the opportunity to try?

Posted by: Thomas | Apr 13, 2011 9:17:49 PM

Thomas --

And how many jobs, menial or otherwise, have you given to ex-cons, buddy?

BTW, the job he has with me features better conditions and has better pay than the job he had before his encounter with the State Police.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 13, 2011 9:25:55 PM

"And how many jobs, menial or otherwise, have you given to ex-cons, buddy?"

First and foremost I am not your "buddy". That has to be earned and you haven't. I am glad that you feel so good about yourself for "helping" one less fortunate. So what if being in your employ is better than what he had before? What could he have attained if people like you weren't so busy making laws to hold him back? Or have you just determined that he doesn't deserve anything better?
And BTW mjs, there are many who are already educated, trained and skilled who need no government training program or any other taxpayer funded handout. They are being held back by the laws like that previously referenced in Tennessee.

Posted by: Thomas | Apr 13, 2011 11:34:29 PM

Thomas --

Since you didn't answer, I'll ask again. How many jobs have YOU given to ex-cons?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 14, 2011 8:16:36 AM

"Since you didn't answer, I'll ask again. How many jobs have YOU given to ex-cons?"

OK, I'll answer that. For the last 10 years or so of my career, I was associated with a small communications related company that hired many ex-offenders. They were paid at varying rates ranging from minimum wage for entry-level jobs up to the prevailing rate in the neighborhood of $30+ per hour for skilled technicians. For the unskilled training assistance was provided through technical schools, seminars, etc. as well as OJT.

The only problem we ever had was when we won a bid on a military or other government facility, military bases were a large part of our business BTW, and our "criminals" were not allowed on base. The same denial of access was met when doing work in state school systems from elementary through state colleges and universities. This created tremendous staffing problems for a small business.

These were hard working individuals trying to get past their mistakes. They, like so many, felt that they had paid their debt to society and saw no reason to be badgered and blocked from gainful employment for the rest of their lives. Were any of these employees to apply for positions, for which they were well qualified, with the aforementioned institutions communications departments they would be denied employment because of their record. Government roadblocks to advancement that are faced by ex-offenders every day.

I might also mention that we never had one employee recidivate and there was no government program using scarce tax dollars involved.

And just for the record, using your typical tactic of diversion, you failed to answer the questions regarding your employee, "What could he have attained if people like you weren't so busy making laws to hold him back?" and "have you just determined that he doesn't deserve anything better?"

And BTW, I am still not your "buddy".

Posted by: Thomas | Apr 14, 2011 10:20:13 AM

Thomas --

Nice dodge.

What I asked you was, "How many jobs have YOU given to ex-cons?"

What you (eventually) answered was, "For the last 10 years or so of my career, I was associated with a small communications related company that hired many ex-offenders."

The question, which you continue to avoid, is how many YOU hired, not how many a company you were "associated with" hired.

"What could he have attained if people like you weren't so busy making laws to hold him back?"

Submit any evidence you have that I have made any law about job opportunities for ex-cons (or any other law). I appreciate your preemptively electing me to Congress, however.

Then submit any evidence you have that I possess a crystal ball, so I can see what my employee (or any other person) could have done with an unseen, alternative future. This should be rich.

"...have you just determined that he doesn't deserve anything better?"

I have "determined" that the fellow deserved and could do the job HE ASKED FOR. He didn't have the education to be an investment banker, no. Of course, neither do I.

One more thing. You are capable of better manners, and your superior tone and rudeness are tiresome. If you want a conversation with me, be business-like, as, for example, Marc Shepherd is. If you don't want a conversation with me, fine. I'm sure each of us has other uses for our time.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 14, 2011 11:10:03 AM

I actually think the information that Thomas puts forward here is very detailed and on point, and as it is rooted in his personal experience, extremely descriptive and helpful to this discussion. It's a point of view - that of employers in the community - that is rarely addressed in discussions of prisoner reentry and recidivism. Emmployability, and the lack of jobs for felons is perhaps the single biggest issue for prisoners coming out of custody. Thank you Thomas, for including that info. here.

Posted by: anonymous | Apr 14, 2011 11:42:32 AM

Thank you anonymous.

One thing that is always a certainty on this site is that Bill Otis will never change his "hang 'em all and let god sort them out" attitude and SC's mantra that "lawyers are the blame for all of the ills of the world" will never change. Bill, the master of diversion , has, as is usually the case, sought to divert attention away from himself by falling back on the " your superior tone and rudeness" ploy". If there was ever one with a "superior tone" it is Bill Otis with his braggadocio regarding his summer home in Hawaii , his manse in Northern Va., and his largesse in hiring an ex-offender. Good to see that someone who fed at the taxpayer funded trough for so long is able to live so well.

I don't think that I ever said that Bill Otis made a law. I think that my statement was "people LIKE you", meaning those die hard tough on crime people LIKE Bill who make the laws that continue to hamper ex-offenders. As far as my "What could he have attained" question, leave it to Bill to respond to what most would recognize as a purely rhetorical question with an "O yeah, prove it" schoolyard response.

Further, my "association" with a small business could mean anything from owner to partner to staff manager, etc... The depth of my involvement is no one's business but my own.
I just don't feel it necessary to expound further to satisfy Bill's "what did YOU do" diversion. It is only important that a business that I was involved in provided jobs to those that could not be hired by any major company on the planet. This is because one of the first questions on an employment application is the old "do you have a conviction?" If the answer is yes, the hiring process usually stops right there.

As I mentioned before, we promoted our people as their skill level increased. However, it was very difficult to promote skilled employees with a record into management/supervisory positions because of the previously mentioned government prohibitions on where they were/are allowed to work.

Posted by: Thomas | Apr 14, 2011 3:44:18 PM

Just curious if Bill provides a pension plan for his employee? Is he really an employee or an independent contractor? I hope Bill provides a pension plan ( and if an employee of course pays employer ss ) for this employee since he advocates cutting social security and medicare as a way to balance the budget.

Posted by: curious | Apr 14, 2011 5:17:30 PM

curious --

Do you seriously think the national debt can be brought under control WITHOUT reining in Social Security and Medicare?

Since Thomas is unwilling to tell us if he personally employs an ex-con, perhaps you'll tell us if you do. Or is it that you're another liberal on this site who criticizes me for not doing enough, when you have done nothing at all? Is that about the size of it?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 14, 2011 5:48:52 PM

I think Thomas did answer you. As for me, if I employ an ex-con I don't know. As an educator my salary is barely enough to cover my expenses. When I do pay somebody to fix a few things around the house I don't ask about their past, so I don't know.
Nice dodge on the Pension question. I'm guessing you don't pay your employee a pension? Is he truly an employee and you pay SS and Medicare as all employers are required to do?

Posted by: curious | Apr 14, 2011 7:42:15 PM

curious --

You present no evidence that you hire an ex-con, and the statistical chances that you do are just about zip. So it turns out that you are just what I said, to wit, another liberal who criticizes me for not doing enough, while you do nothing at all.

P.S. I didn't ask whether he was an ex-con. He volunteered it. He also volunteered his real name, unlike you.

P.P.S. I also employ the local 14 year-old to shovel the walk when it snows, and I don't pay SS or Medicare. Hey, go report me to DOJ! Oh wait, DOJ is nothing but Nazis, so maybe you should report me to MoveOn.org instead.

P.P.P.S. Since you ducked it, I'll ask again: Do you seriously think the national debt can be brought under control WITHOUT reining in Social Security and Medicare?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 14, 2011 9:29:16 PM

Bill:

Nice junk answers and responses.

"When he offered that job to the Felon from Maine, they said his heart shrank three sizes that day"!

I also am devastated that you have a winter home in HI and a Mansion in Virginia. I pray that that money is inherited, because if not, you were paid way too much (whether DOJ or prof) from which we will never recover.

I have a summer and winter home also, and I had hired ex-felons (drugs) in private industry, but it WAS HARD AS HELL.

They were and are good employees. Better than the under educted public riff-raff that considers themselves educated by the public schools and universities today.

Before I answer any questions from you, you have to answer my previous questions from other posts:

Who said:

"Show me a Country with many laws and I will show you a corrupt country". and,

"Beware of those in whom the desire to punish is strong".

Posted by: albeed | Apr 14, 2011 11:06:25 PM

Curious and Albeed, meet the master of distraction, the wizard of diversion, Mr. Bill Otis. Curious, notice how he "diverted" attention from your questions by another display of his peeve with my answers, and answer I did, at least as much as is relevant or any of his business, then followed up with the "distraction" of asking you the same questions that he asked of me. Which, BTW, were had nothing to do to your issue. Albeed's characterization of Bill's responses as "junk answers" well put.

In typical fashion, Bill so diverted and distracted the discussion that some would have a hard time remembering that the original topic was recidivism. His first distraction was injecting his overblown opinion of himself and his compassion for hiring an ex-offender and bragging about his two homes. Nice success story for a former public servant wouldn't you say?

When all else fails Bill falls back on the tired old tactic of labeling anyone who calls him out a "liberal". Truth of the matter is that I am conservative to a point a little to the right of Rush Limbaugh or maybe even Attila the Hun on most issues. The difference is that I, and many other "conservatives" have a heart and a little stronger sense of what is right. The difference is that I, like many other conservatives, see no gain in continuing to punish ex-offenders beyond payment of the "debt to society" prescribed by law that they have paid in full.

In speaking of his employee, Mr. Otis said, "He didn't have the education to be an investment banker." Perhaps not but if he were to attain that education could he be employed as an investment banker? If he were to train as a nurse or other health care professional could he then be licensed? Not in Tennessee if the hard liners have their way. How about, heaven forbid, a federal prosecutor? If he attained the education would he be allowed to take the bar exam? The point is, regardless of skills or education ex-offenders face roadblocks that are placed by bureaucrats seeking political gain for themselves and damn the cost to the taxpayers.

Do all ex-offenders deserve another chance? Certainly not but it takes a low person to deny all the opportunity because of the few that can't make the transition.

Posted by: Thomas | Apr 15, 2011 10:28:35 AM

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