Benchmarking Recidivism

In 2008, one in one hundred American adults was behind bars; one in 31 was either incarcerated or on probation or parole. Total state outlays for corrections is $52 billion. Preventing offenders from committing more crime when they are released — reducing the recidivism rate — is one strategy for controlling the second fastest-growing category of state spending after Medicaid.

A new study by the Pew Center on the States, “State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons,” provides the first comprehensive state-by-state look at recidivism rates, reporting return-to-prison rates for all inmates released in 1999 and 2004. According to Pew’s data, 45.5% of all inmates nationally were re-incarcerated within three years. “The new figures suggest that despite the massive increase in corrections spending, in many states there has been little improvement in the performance of corrections systems.”

Among inmates released in 2004, Virginia had one of the lowest rates in the country: 28.%. That rate was bested only by Oregon (22.8%), Wyoming (24.8%)and West Virginia (26.8%). And it was significantly better the worst performers, Minnesota (61.2%) and California (57.8%).

Clearly, Virginia, which is often criticized for its large inmate population, is doing something right — at least it’s doing it better than most other states. Now, if only we can figure out what that is and do more of it.


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