What Do Inmates Do After They’re Released?
That’s one of the most important questions any sensible person would ask in considering whether criminals are sentenced too harshly, or (relatedly) whether their existing sentences should be shortened by mass clemency or other expedients such as First Step Act re-sentencing. After all, we should be guided by “facts” and “data,” not emotion, right? Emotion is, after all, the province of revenge-driven right-wing kooks, while reliance on criminal justice “data” is the specialty of the more tempered among us.
Well OK then, let’s look at the data. What do they tell us?
In brief, they tell us that, in overwhelming numbers, after they’re released, criminals get back in the crime business. Most of them return fast, and over time, close to all of them return to harming us, our property, and our right to live in peace and safety.
Here’s the grim news, furnished by none other than Merrick Garland’s Justice Department, and featured (h/t and thanks) by leading “reform” advocate, Prof. Doug Berman. Doug’s entry relates:
Today BJS released another new “special report” on recidivism, this one titled “Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 24 States in 2008: A 10-Year Follow-Up Period (2008–2018).” Here is the introduction and “Highlights” from the first page of the report [emphasis added by WGO]:
Among persons released from state prisons in 2008 across 24 states, 82% were arrested at least once during the 10 years following release. The annual arrest percentage declined over time, with 43% of prisoners arrested at least once in Year 1 of their release, [another] 29% arrested [by] Year 5, and 22% arrested [by] Year 10.
Got that? A little over seven in ten released criminals are at it again within five years of re-entry, and over four in ten are back to crime within a year. (The report doesn’t tell us how many return to crime within 24 hours, but you better believe it’s not zero).
The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) used prisoner records from the National Corrections Reporting Program and criminal history data to analyze the post-release offending patterns of former prisoners both within and outside of the state where they were imprisoned. This report presents findings from BJS’s first study of prisoner recidivism over a 10-year period. The study randomly sampled about 73,600 released prisoners to represent the approximately 409,300 state prisoners released across 24 states in 2008. These states provided prisoners’ records and the FBI or state identification numbers that are needed to obtain criminal history data on the released prisoners.
These 24 states were responsible for 69% of all persons released from state prisons that year nationwide.
- About 66% of prisoners released across 24 states in 2008 were arrested within 3 years, and 82% were arrested within 10 years.
- The annual arrest percentage among prisoners released in 2008 declined from 43% in Year 1 to 22% in Year 10.
- About 61% of prisoners released in 2008 returned to prison within 10 years for a parole or probation violation or a new sentence.