State of the Facts
Seventy percent of prisoners released in 2012 were arrested again within five years, according to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). The recidivism rate is over 80% for prisoners with juvenile records.
BJS defines recidivism as a re-offense by those previously in the criminal justice system. The bureau breaks down offenses into three categories: arrest, guilty conviction, and return to prison. BJS started collecting data on recidivism in 2005, tracking prisoner records over a five-year time period. The most recent data available is from 2017. The data includes prisoner records released by 34 states, representing 80% of the state prison population nationwide. The data excludes federal prisons. It also excludes state or county jails, where people are awaiting trial or sentencing, or serving less than one year of incarceration.
Former prisoners face many challenges after being released, including finding employment, housing, or receiving healthcare. A BJS study found that one-third of federal prisoners released in 2010 did not find employment within four years. Additionally, a Census Bureau study found former prisoners who were employed earned $10,000 less per year than their peers with similar educational backgrounds.
Recidivism rates are the highest for those first arrested before turning 18. The rates are lowest for those who were first arrested at 40 years or older, staying below 30%. Recidivism rates also decrease as individuals get older, regardless of the age of first arrest.
Recidivism rates are high across all race and ethnicity groups. As of 2017, American Indians and Alaska Natives face the highest levels of recidivism at 79% but are 1% of the total prison population. Black prisoners have the second-highest recidivism rate, at 74% over five years, and are about 40% of total prisoners.
Recidivism rates are higher for men, who are almost 95% of the prison population. The recidivism rate for women after five years was 63%, below the average for all prisoners.
Prisoners who committed property crimes had the highest rates of recidivism, with 78% of prisoners arrested again after five years. Violent crime had the lowest recidivism rate, but prisoners also faced longer sentences than other types of crime. With longer sentences, prisoners are more likely to be older when released, which is associated with lower recidivism rates.
More than half of released prisoners who re-offend are arrested for public order crimes. These include probation or parole violations, DUIs, possession of weapons, and other miscellaneous violations. These arrests also resulted in the fewest returns to prison, more often resulting in fines or jail time.
A person arrested for a public order crime is often charged with other offenses at the same time. This is especially true for probation or parole violations, which are often triggered by committing a different crime.
The other three most common crimes for released prisoners are assault, theft, and drug possession. Combined, these offenses are about two-thirds of all recidivism arrests.
Recidivism rates fell 7% since 2005, when BJS began collecting data. But while the recidivism rate declined, some factors remain consistent. Re-arrest rates are still highest in the first year after release and almost 90% of re-arrests are within three years of prisoner’s release.
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