March 1, 2013
Proof of bad people or bad punishments or bad programming?The quirky question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable local article from Pennsylvania, which is headlined "6 in 10 will re-offend: State prison study sets baseline for progress." Here are the details:
Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel on Thursday morning released what he's calling a "landmark study" into recidivism rates at Pennsylvania's state prisons, and the study is noted not for the progress shown, but rather for the lack of change demonstrated.
For more than a decade, a consistent six in ten people released from Pennsylvania state prisons were either re-arrested or put back in prison within three years. What's "landmark" about the study is in part its scope -- more than 12 years -- but largely the fact is sets a "baseline" for going forward.
Wetzel said it marks the first step toward measuring progress. "Citizens of the Commonwealth should have every expectation of a corrections system that actually helps people correct themselves; one that is based on research, not on anecdotal stories and innuendo," said Wetzel.
While population and cost "remain essential measurements" in Gov. Tom Corbett's Corrections Reform initiative, he said, "The 'new normal' is to expect and require quantifiable results."
The study, which Wetzel called "the keystone of the Corbett Corrections Reform initiative," also helps the Department of Corrections and the Board of Probation and Parole understand who is most likely to re-offend and how. “To get a true picture of whether our state prison system is meeting its goal of reducing future crime, we need to look at more than just the reincarceration of an individual,” Wetzel said. “We need to look at re-arrests as well to see the whole picture of how and when individuals come into contact again with the criminal justice system.”
For example, the study found that more than half of those who will return to prison within three years after release will do so within the first years, which is by far the most risky period for recidivism. Younger offenders are more likely to recidivate than older offenders. Individuals most likely to reoffend appear to be property offenders. Individuals least likely to reoffend are those incarcerated for driving under the influence of intoxicants, rape and arson.
The study looked prisoners' background as well and found a released inmate who has 10 or more prior arrests is greater than 6 times more likely to recidivate than a released inmate with no prior arrest history other than the arrest for the current stay in prison.
According to the study, nearly two-thirds of all reincarcerations within three years of release from prison are for technical parole violations. Nearly three-fourths of rearrests within three years of release from prison are for less serious offenses.
The study also confirmed the damning portrait of Community Corrections Centers outlined in an earlier study performed by Dr. Edward Latessa of the University of Cincinnati. From 2005 through 2011, inmates paroled to a Community Corrections Center were actually more likely to be back in prison within a year as inmates paroled directly home.
Wetzel said the Department of Corrections can save taxpayers $44.7 million annually by reducing the one-year reincarceration rate by 10 percentage points.
The full 45-page report referenced in this article is available at this link, and the cool infographic that explains the reports key findings comes from the PA Department of Corrections website. One key finding reflected in the infographic is that less than one in five new arrests are for an act of violence. The majority of rearrests are for drug or public order offenses or parole violations.
Obviously, lots of different conclusions and responses can be based in this new recidivism data. But I think most important is to stay ever open-minded about what can be the most effective and efficient kinds of criminal justices responses. This report apparently reveals that for some offenders in some cases recidivism may be lower in the absence of a certain kind of punishment or programming. It is, of course, bad enough when the work of a department of corrections fails to actual help "correct" people. But the ultimate form of government waste exists when there is evidence that the taxpayer funded work of the criminal justice system may be making people worse criminals.
March 1, 2013 at 09:09 AM | Permalink
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We have known since the 70's that we can not force rehabilitation or correction on inmates. Progressives want it both ways-less use of incapacitation and more use of supervision in the community but with no teeth in the enforcement of the rules of supervision. Sure the recidivist rate can be reduced by not enforcing the rules of supervision but public safety will suffer as is currently being played out in real life in California.
Posted by: mjs | Mar 3, 2013 11:37:35 AM