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New ALEC Report Targets Recidivism, Promotes Prison Alternatives

| May 7, 2015

A recent report by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is shining a light on the issue of stubborn recidivism rates across the country, and calls for a new system of evidence-based practices to help reduce them.

Recidivism is not an insignificant problem across the United States. According to Pew Charitable Trust research, over 4 in 10 offenders who are released from prison end up right back behind bars within three years. This contributes to spiraling costs to a state’s budget. This issue isn’t limited to the fiscal aspect, however. In addition to the increased incidence of crime—which has obvious, negative impacts on victims—recidivism can lock individuals onto a carousel of release and re-offense, which can take a heavy toll on family structure and the ability of people to live fruitful lives.

Governor Bobby Jindal put Louisiana’s particular situation with recidivism into stark relief: “Every year we end up locking up about 15,000 of our people in prison. By the way – we release another 15,000. We end up re-arresting over half of them in the first five years.”

ALEC’s report–“Recidivism Reduction: Community-Based Supervision Alternatives To Incarceration”–provides potential solutions to these high recidivism rates, all centered on evidence-based programs. Instead of one-size-fits-all practices that characterize much of the current system, the Recidivism Reduction Act (RRA), emphasizes individualized plans that takes into account an offender’s risk level and needs. This tailored approach is capable of producing tangible, positive outcomes for the individual and the community.

Data demonstrates that the public safety is better served by reserving prison for more serious or violent crimes, and diverting low-level offenses to community-based supervision. In this situation, individuals can stay with their families, continue holding jobs, and being productive members of society.

The plan requires that a certain percentage of offenders be supervised in accordance with evidence-based practices, such as risk/needs assessments, personalized case plans and graduated sanctions.

There have already been real-time examples of such policies bearing fruit. In Hawaii, those offenders enrolled in the state’s sanctions system for probation violations were “55 percent less likely to be arrested for a new crime, 72 percent less likely to use drugs and 53 percent less likely to have their probation revoked than nonparticipants.”

Graduated sanctions increase compliance, and save taxpayer money by preventing lengthy prison stays for petty, non-violent infractions.

Additionally, RRA advises that all community-based programs undergo regular evaluations to ensure continued program success. This allows relevant actors—from policymakers and lawmakers—to gauge progress, and only fund those programs that are working.

Mass incarceration and recidivism have heavy costs. Over $80 billion is spent yearly on the criminal justice system in total, and recidivism contributes to broken families, permanent criminal records, and ultimately, unproductive lives. It’s obvious something must change. The Recidivism Reduction Act may do just that.


MICHAEL HAUGEN is a policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and its Right on Crime initiative.

His work for the Foundation has focused primarily on criminal justice reform topics, particularly civil forfeiture, prison reform and justice reinvestment, mens rea reform, occupational licensing, and various law enforcement and privacy issues. He’s also written about federal corporate subsidies, school choice, and gun rights.

Haugen is a graduate of Eastern Washington University, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology with Pre-Medicine Option, and a minor in Chemistry. He also holds an Associate of Arts degree in General Studies from North Idaho College. At EWU, he participated in academic research in a molecular microbiology laboratory for two years, investigating genetic virulence factors and pathophysiology in microbes.

His writing has appeared in National Review, The Hill, Townhall, Washington Examiner, Dallas Morning News, El Paso Times, Trib Talk, RedState, Ricochet, and Breitbart Texas.