The State of Recidivism

Earlier this month the Pew Center on the States released State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons, a comprehensive report on trends in state recidivism rates. A recidivism rate refers to the proportion of individuals released from prison that are rearrested, reconvicted, or returned to prison within a specified time period. Offenses which result in a return to prison fall into one of two categories: 1) committing a new crime and subsequently receiving a new conviction or 2) violating a technical condition of supervision, such as failing to report to one’s parole or probation officer. Overall, more than four in ten offenders are returned to prison within three years of being released. Thirty-three states reported data for both 1999 and 2004; 17 states reported a decrease in recidivism rates over the five-year period and 15 states reported an increase. Rates in Oregon fell more than rates in any other state, reporting a 31.9 percent decrease. Overall, general recidivism rates showed little variation over the five years, with 45.4 percent for individuals released in 1999 and 43.3 percent for those released in 2004. The report vocalizes a need for improving supervision, citing that although crime rates continue to decline, the rates of reincarceration for committing a new crime increased by 11.9 percent over the five-year period. This increase is somewhat balanced out by the 17.7 percent drop in the rate of offenders reincarcerated for technical violations.

Pew Center on the States and those involved in publishing this report caution readers not to compare recidivism rates across states. There are many variables between different states that might affect recidivism rates differently; rates cannot be used as an accurate way of comparing the success of states’ respective corrections agencies. Pew worked with two opinion research firms, Public Opinion Strategies and Benson Strategy Group, to measure public opinion about recidivism.

Voters were most concerned with public safety and protection, advocating that a better job needs to be done in making sure that persons who are released are less likely to commit crimes. Voters showed strong support for reducing the length of incarceration for nonviolent prisoners who participate in programs that may help to reduce recidivism, such as substance abuse treatment programs. Voters also supported shorter sentences for nonviolent inmates who demonstrate good behavior and are at minimal risk of reoffending.

See full report 1,200 registered voters were interviewed by phone on March 7-14, 2010. Results have a margin of error of ±2.83%.


Pew Center on the States, State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons (Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts, April 2011).

Posted by JVSF

SSDAN Office

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