Criminal Justice

Prison Release without Parolee Preparation Risks Recidivism

Beginning October 30 and continuing to November 2, the U.S. Justice Department will release up to 6,000 inmates from federal prisons. This is part of an effort to decrease overcrowding in prisons and to give prisoners who were convicted of non-violent drug charges in the 1980s and 90s a fairer punishment.

Although this release is part of the progress many criminal justice reform advocates have wanted for years, some studies suggest doing so risks having these convicts return to a life of crime. Among state prisoners released in 30 different states in 2005, nearly two-thirds of them were arrested again within three years, and three-quarters of them were arrested within five years.

In 2002, a federal report tracked the recidivism rate of approximately 91,000 nonviolent offenders over a three year period in 15 states. The study found that more than 21 percent were rearrested for violent crimes, including more than 700 murders and more than 600 rapes. The report also revealed how difficult it is to identify if an inmate is low risk. The report’s findings do not necessarily mean President Obama should halt the prisoner release initiative. It does, however,  indicate that federal prisons need to devise better solutions to reduce recidivism.

Given the problem of prison reentry, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) developed a model policy known as the Recidivism Reduction Act. The model policy requires a certain percentage of offenders be supervised in accordance with evidence-based practices within four years. It also requires a certain amount of state funds for offender programming be spent on evidence-based programs within four years. The last thing this act requires is for community corrections agencies to improve policies and practices for crime victims, to provide employees training on evidence-based practices and to set aside a portion of funds for research on program effectiveness. The Recidivism Reduction Act is designed to help ensure criminals released from prison can be productive members of society.

Research by the Council of State Government has proven sorting individuals based on their risk of reoffending has the greatest impact on reducing recidivism.  In order for programs to categorize offenders based on risk level, the assessments must be based on the offender’s location and demographic needs, information that has been found to directly correlate to criminal behavior and prison reentry. Evaluating this information allows the programs to prioritize resources towards those that have a higher risk of reoffending.

Additionally, released prisoners should be provided with community services to help them reintegrate into society. Conversely, Parole and probation officers should be allowed to incentivize positive behavior while also capable of enforcing punitive measures to discourage misconduct.

In 2011, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice published a study evaluating the effectiveness of state prisoner rehabilitative programs aimed at decreasing recidivism; among them were the faith-based InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI), the Substance Abuse Felony Program (SAFP) and the Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI). All of the programs evaluated achieved a reduction in the recidivism rate over a period of three years. Most notably, the SAFP reduced recidivism by 14 percent.

When examining recidivism statistics across the nation, it is clear that without proper counter-recidivism policies, many of these nonviolent offenders risk returning to a life of crime. In order to ensure public safety, it is imperative that state and federal governments alike provide the necessary resources to reintegrate these prisoners into civilian life.

In Depth: Criminal Justice

The American Legislative Exchange Council is proud to be a leader on criminal justice reform. For over a decade, the ALEC task force on criminal justice has brought state legislators and stakeholders together for the purpose of driving sound criminal justice policies. ALEC members focus on new and innovative state…

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