Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Colorado Needs to Emphasize Tracking Recidivism Rates as Argued in Pew Charitable Trust Report

The Pew Charitable Trust released an interesting report on prison recidivism in the United States. State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America's Prisons explores how more than 4 of 10 ex-offenders return to prison in 3 years even though states have dramatically increased the budget for prisons.

For some reason, Colorado was one of 9 states that didn't provide recidivism rates for the study. This is disappointing because I believe, as the report argues, that defining and measuring recidivism success is extremely important for measuring prison performance and saving tax dollars.

200 years ago when prisons were started in the United States rehabilitation was the primary aim. In recent years, it has changed from rehabilitation to "command and control" where "setting up inmates for success when they leave has not been part of the job description." (State of Recidivism, page 27) Tracking recidivism rates is the first step towards government performance that recognizes the importance of safely decreasing the expense of costly returns to prison.

The report emphasizes that if states decrease prison return rates by just 10 percent, they could save $635 million dollars each year. In the past, I've argued how much employment contributes to ex-offender success and state budget savings. Pew's study offers a few more big picture aims that impact recidivism rates such as preparing for inmate release at the time of admission, optimizing supervision resources, imposing swift and certain sanctions, and creating incentives for inmates to succeed.

I especially agree with the last point. One of my biggest frustrations over the years is the system's over-reliance on negative-reinforcement instead of offering rewards for successful outcomes. I've written before how disappointing it is to see ex-offenders return to prison because they are unable to find a job instead of being provided incentives and support in finding a job.

All in all, the report is a great resource for individuals interested in ex-offender issues. Read it in full here.

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