In previous posts I have made much of the 23.4% recidivism rate from Virginia prisons. That’s the lowest — hence, the best — rate of all the 45 states that keep track. I’ve always construed the number as a fact that Virginians can be proud of. I have touted it as evidence that Virginia’s Department of Corrections was doing something right, and that, whatever it was, we should be doing more of it.
I should have known better. It turns out that there are many definitions of “recidivism.” And it’s not clear that Virginia is using the same definition as other states. We should hold off patting ourselves on the back until we’re certain that we’re comparing apples to apples.
Kudos to Jeff Schwaner with Staunton’s News Leader, who has dug into the numbers.
Update: Dick Hall-Sizemore, an expert in correctional issues, offers his own take on the numbers here in the comments.
One definition of recidivism is when someone is released from prison and gets arrested for a new crime… Another is when the felon violates terms of his probation…. another is when he gets convicted of a new crime… Or maybe for being sentenced for a crime, but only if the sentence exceeds a certain minimum. Another critical part of the definition is how many months or years after a felon is released from prison that is being counted. A year? Two years? Three? Longer? The longer the period counted, the greater the odds that a given felon will commit another crime.
The Commonwealth tracks prisoners convicted of offenses with a sentence of at least a year, and deems them recidivists if they have been convicted and sentenced again within three years. Not counted in the numbers:
- those arrested for probation violations but who are sentenced to any time less than a year;
- those arrested for misdemeanors with sentences less than a year;
- those arrested for any crime but who have not yet been convicted;
- those arrested and convicted for a crime but not sentenced to a year or more in prison before the end of their first three years after release; or
- those who plea down to a lesser charge with no prison time or incarceration time of less than a year.
Concludes Schwaner: “Here’s a much simpler, and perhaps more realistic, recidivism number: 69%. The News Leader counted the number of inmates in jail on a random day in 2017 who were facing charges that indicated they’d already had prior convictions.”There are currently no comments highlighted.