US Recidivism Rates Stay Sky High
A Bureau of Justice Statistics report presents a picture of an American prison system marred by recidivism. Nearly half of prisoners released in 2012, for instance, returned to prison within five years for a parole or probation violation or a new sentence.
Seven in 10 incarcerated people released in 34 states in 2012 were rearrested within five years, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report on recidivism rates for prisoners in 34 states between 2012 and 2017.
The report includes grim findings about recidivism in the United States, where rates are among the highest in the world.
To approximate the U.S. prison population, BJS researchers used a random sample of 92,100 prisoners to represent the 408,300 state prisoners released across 34 states in 2012. These states were responsible for 79 percent of all people released from prisons in 2012 nationwide.
The findings are stark. Nearly half of prisoners released in 2012 returned to prison within five years for a parole or probation violation or a new sentence. In 2012, about 81 percent of prisoners aged 24 or younger were arrested within 5 years of release, compared to 74 percent of those between 25 to 39 and 61 percent of those over 40.
Although the annual arrest percentage of prisoners released in 2012 declined from 37 percent one-year post-release to 26 percent five years after release, between 2012 and 2017 an estimated 1.1 million arrests occurred among the 408,300 prisoners released in 2012.
The authors also break down the statistics by crime: sixty-two percent of drug offenders released from prison in 2012 were arrested for a non-drug crime within five years. About two-thirds of prisoners released after serving time for a violent offense were arrested for any crime within 5 years.
Of the over 400,000 prisoners who were arrested following release, 363,200 were men. Around 44 percent of rearrested prisoners were white, 36 percent were Black, 16 percent Hispanic, 1.5 percent American Indian and 0.6 percent Asian or Native Hawaiian.
The authors also confirmed some logical patterns. For instance, one in three prisoners released after serving time for assault were arrested for assault within 5 years. Additionally, prisoners released after serving time for a property offense were more likely than other released prisoners to be arrested for a property offense.
“A higher percentage of prisoners released after serving time for a property offense (52%) were arrested for a property offense within 5 years, compared to prisoners released after serving time for a violent (29 percent), drug (30 percent), or public order (29 percent) offense,” the authors write.
These findings offer a window into high recidivism rates across the U.S. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, structural barriers often impede formerly incarcerated people from successful re-entry. Difficulty finding employment, affordable housing, and physical and mental health care explain why people are often re-arrested a few years after release.
Targeted social programs may help reduce recidivism. In Los Angeles County, a supportive housing program established by the Office of Diversion improved housing stability and reduced criminal justice involvement, with impressive outcomes: 86 percent of participants had no new felony convictions after 12 months, according to a RAND study.
Programs like these might offer a remedy to the BJS statistics, though “inconsistencies in policing, charging, and supervision” also play a part in the inflated recidivism rates, the Prison Policy Initiative reports.
To access the BJS report and tables, click here.
Eva Herscowitz is a TCR justice reporting intern.