Yesterday the Pew Center on the States released a new report with a depressing finding: more than four in ten offenders return to state prisons within three years of being released. The report, entitled State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons, again raises the question that Right On Crime has persistently asked: are Americans taxpayers receiving an acceptable return on their investment in prisons?
The answer is no, if forty percent of inmates merely return to prison within a few years because ineffective rehabilitation practices are being used. Taxpayers find themselves paying over and over again to confine the exact same people. According to the Pew report, if states could find a way to reduce recidivism by just ten percent, the states could save “more than $635 million combined in one year alone in averted prison costs.”
The Pew study emphasizes that recidivism rates vary significantly among the states (Alaska has the worst recidivism rate in the country, Montana has the best), and rates vary significantly within the same state over time. (Oregon has had an exceptional 31.9 percent recidivism drop in recent years.) Policy makers throughout the country can examine the study’s findings to better understand what is and is not working.
In Texas, one of the states with a recidivism rate well below forty percent, The Houston Chronicle suggests that success may be related to several programs established in 2007, including treatment programs for drug offenders and the mentally ill and the “intermediate sanction facilities for parolees who violated terms of their release, allowing offenders to serve short terms behind bars rather than face parole revocation.”
Texas and other states with similar programs provide a model for success in reducing recidivism. These states demonstrate that the best way to prioritize limited tax dollars in criminal justice is to ensure that prison does not become a revolving door.