Are States Truthful About Offender Recidivism?

Highlights States are claiming reduced recidivism yet national data states that five out of six prisoners are rearrested, many multiple times, and that the vast majority programs show little or no effect.  Given this, how is state reduction in recidivism possible? Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning public […]

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Highlights States are claiming reduced recidivism yet national data states that five out of six prisoners are rearrested, many multiple times, and that the vast majority programs show little or no effect.  Given this, how is state reduction in recidivism possible? Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning public […]

The post Are States Truthful About Offender Recidivism? appeared first on Crime in America.Net.


How One Rural Indiana Jail Deals with Its “Exploding”Female Population

With growing numbers of women incarcerated around the country, some local authorities are developing innovative programs to help ensure they never return once they’re released. Floyd County in southern Indiana opened a jail-based counseling unit this year that appears to hold promise.

Is there a better way to address the growing numbers of women who find themselves in jail?

One southern Indiana county has developed a program aimed at helping women—including those who have recidivated—gain the tools, skills and confidence to make their current stay behind bars the last one.

The program is the brainchild of Floyd County Sheriff Lt. Brett O’Loughlin and Michelle Cochran, a mental health worker contracted by the jail.

At the beginning of this year, the jail opened a separate block with room for 16 inmates who are committed to focusing on themselves, addressing their addiction issues, and supporting one another in their growth.

And some of the women inmates say it has already put them in the right direction.

“It teaches you how to change your thinking, which is where we all mess up,” said Heather Goff, who’s been in the Floyd County jail for almost a year and a half, and in the program for eight months.

“I was sober for nine years. Since I’ve been locked up, I’ve had time to reflect on where I went wrong and recognize how not to do it again.”

According to Cochran, the recent increase in the number of women in Floyd County jail — largely due to drug issues or drug-related crimes — makes it more important than ever to develop and maintain meaningful programming for them.

“So we started putting it together building a curriculum [with] evidence-based practice,” Cochran said.

The jail has recently been awarded a grant to expand the program to men; she said they started with the women because “that population seemed to explode in a very short amount of time.”

The women in the “program dorm” are given more freedoms and responsibility than those in the general block, and have access to more programming — like specialized classes and yoga.

Coordinators work with them to help hone in on the personal life issues that led to their brush with the law, and to help cut recidivism.

According to Lt. O’Loughlin, programs in other jails around the country are often limited to basics: 12-step program meetings or faith-based programs. While those can be useful, he said, they can lack the more personal focus the new Floyd County program offers.

“Every facility has some type of program, but it ends up being they try to cram everybody into that one-size-fits all,” he said. “They’re just spinning their wheels and the same people keep coming back.

“[This program is] not going to be a one-size-fits all. We’re going to throw everything we can at it and see what sticks.”

Each week, the women draw lots to see which jobs they’ll have for the week — they could serve as a mediator to help sort out interpersonal issues among the inmates, or they could facilitate weekly programming, enforce chores getting done or keep track of records within the program.

“This program means a lot to me because this is the first time that I’m addressing that I have a problem and I am an addict,” Mercedes Hall said. “And that means a lot to … my family. This is the first time in my life I’ve actually had structure and consistency.”

In Floyd County, the average daily female population has nearly doubled between 2007 and 2017 to 59 from 35, a rise that local law enforcement authorities attribute to the drug crisis that’s shaken Southern Indiana in the past several years.

The growth of the male inmate population has been more steady during that time in Floyd County.

Nearby Clark County law enforcement officials have seen similar growth, rising to an average daily female population of 131 in 2017, up from 56 in 2007.

Clark County Sheriff Jamey Noel says the growth in numbers comes with challenges to spacing and increased health costs associated with women. On a recent day in Clark County, there were eight pregnant women in jail.

In 2016, Clark County initiated three new programs targeted specifically to address the needs of the growing female population.

A 12-week writing workshop, taught by local freelance journalist Amanda Beam, is designed to help women express themselves through written words. There is a separate group for women who are victims of physical, mental or sexual abuse, to help pave the way for them to become empowered survivors.

There’s also a pregnancy class for women who are, or believe they may be, pregnant.

“The more tools you can give an inmate, especially a female inmate, hopefully [means] they won’t return to jail and that’s what’s best for the family,” Noel said.


Floyd County Sheriff Frank Loop says a new jail program started this year specifically for women gives them the chance to break through the old thought patterns and habits, to help prevent them from returning to jail. Photo by Aprile Rickert, News and Tribune .

In Floyd County, nearly all of the women in the program said they have been incarcerated multiple times, and most are currently in for drug-related charges.

“Even if their charge isn’t a drug charge, it’s usually drug-related,” program member Goff said. “Whatever they’ve done, it was to get drugs.”

Floyd County Sheriff Frank Loop said the program can change the course of a woman’s life — to keep her from falling into the old ways before jail.

Often, they end up in jail again soon because “they go back to the same environment they had,” Loop said. “The same friends, because they don’t know anything else.”

Cassidy Miller’s story lines up with this.

Miller, who has been in jail multiple times, admitted she intentionally courted arrest because she knew she needed a change from the life she was living on the outside.

“I was doing everything right on the outside [but] everything was still screwing up,” she said. “I was very, very tired, and I knew I wanted something different.

“We’re all just tired of that life. We want something different and this is the first step to that.”

While some jail opportunities, like receiving a GED or other certifications can mean credit off of their sentence, this is not the case with the new Floyd County program.

Cochran, the mental health worker, said this helps ensure that everyone in the program is there because they want to be, and because they’re committed to doing the work.

Because the women are housed in a separate dorm, they’re not around the negative influences of others in jail who aren’t ready or don’t wish to try to change, Cochran said.

The program effectively begins as soon as the women enter the dedicated block.

“[We ask] ‘what are your goals, what are you going to do different, where are you going to be that’s safe when you leave here,'” she said.

Program participant Miller said living in the dorm creates a sense of solidarity and mutual concern among the inmates.

“In here, we call each other on our B.S.,” she said. “Or if we’re thinking something wrong or we’re down on ourselves, we check ourselves and each other because we care enough to see everybody do well.”

Another inmate, Joanie Watson, recently received a certificate for completing a class that she helped show her that progress was possible.

“It’s a confidence boost, even doing your homework is a sense of accomplishment,” she said. “Something little you accomplished and something bigger and it just builds up.”

But the hardest challenge may come when the inmates are released.

The county Sheriff’s Department and staff say they are working to increase partnerships with community organizations who will be available for continued post-incarceration health and addiction care.

“That’s how we’re going to prevent recidivism,” Cochran said.

Aprile Ricket

Aprile Rickert

“That’s how we’re going to keep them clean, keep them sober and keep them medicated.”

Aprile Rickert, a crime and courts reporter at the News and Tribune, is a 2018 John Jay Justice Reporting Fellow. This is a condensed and slightly edited version of a story published in the News and Tribune as part of her Fellowship project. Follow Aprile on Twitter: @Aperoll27. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Obama-Era Reentry Program Curtailed Recidivism: Report

Project New Opportunity (PNO), created under President Obama’s Clemency Initiative and the United States Sentencing Commission’s (USSC) 2014 reduction in drug sentencing guidelines, has proven successful in reducing recidivism among ex-incarcerees, a new study has found.

An initiative created under the Obama administration to provide reentry support for the formerly incarcerated has sharply curtailed recidivism among the formerly incarcerated, according to a study of the program.

Under the Project New Opportunity (PNO), created under President Obama’s Clemency Initiative and the United States Sentencing Commission’s (USSC) 2014 reduction in drug sentencing guidelines, , there were no known incidents or reports of rearrests, violations of the terms of probation supervision, or incarceration, said the study released by the Center for Community Alternatives (CCA).

Many of the formerly incarcerated individuals in the program spent decades in prison before being released.

The key elements of PNO’s model are a staffing plan that relies on formerly incarcerated people as Reentry Consultants, and an “inside/outside” connection that introduces incarcerated people to their Reentry Consultant six months prior to their release and continues after release.

PNO is based on research both about the challenges that accompany the transition from prison to community and the role that formerly incarcerated people can play in helping newly released people make this transition.

“Imprisonment leaves scars including post-traumatic stress responses, a lack of familiarity with the routines of daily life, and forms of culture shock as one confronts technological and other changes that have occurred during one’s time in prison,” wrote study author Marsha Weissman, the Senior Policy Fellow of the CCA.

“These adjustment issues contribute to recidivism, which is highest within the first six months of release,” she continued.

The PNO was initiated under the Obama administration and through the retroactive application of the guideline reforms, about 6,000 individuals were eligible to be released on November 1, 2016.

Another 1,928 were released though the Clemency Initiative.

Yet, except for probation supervision and Bureau of Prison (BOP) halfway houses, there were no reentry supports available to these individuals, many of whom had served decades in prison, Weissman said.

Thus, there was a need for a new model that could provide reentry support for people released under these criminal justice reform efforts.

PNO was able to follow up with participants of the program through the Reentry Consultants and/or participants themselves.

“This suggests that PNO was able to help people stabilize and avoid new encounters with the criminal justice system in the immediate aftermath of release,” Weissman concluded.

This summary was prepared by TCR senior staff writer Megan Hadley. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Study: Shorter Sentences Key to Shrinking Federal Prisons

A new federally funded study shows how much the federal prison system would shrink without affecting recidivism by levying shorter prison sentences.

Sentencing-reform advocates will find new ammunition in a federally funded study that shows how much more quickly the federal prison system shrinks through shortened sentences than through diverting low-level offenders to probation.

The study by Abt Associations shows that cutting average federal prison time by 19 percent, or 7.5 months, can save vast sums of money without higher recidivism. Closing prisons saves money by cutting both marginal costs such as food and fixed costs such as administrative overhead and maintenance.

Those effects held true regardless of an offender’s criminal history, offense seriousness, sex, race, and education level, the study found.

The study, published in the journal Criminology & Public Policy, is part of a five-year project by Abt to analyze federal prison data on every U.S. citizen sentenced under federal sentencing guidelines for serious offenses from 1999 to 2014, covering every step from initial booking to post-conviction community supervision. The full text of the study is published here.

The federal prison population is, of course, a relatively small slice of a much larger state and local incarceration pie but it is the largest single prison system in the country.


Blind Advocacy of Offender Rehabilitation Programs Hurts All

Highlights Offender recidivism after prison is horrendous. Programs have little to no effect. We need a research initiative similar to cancer. It should be a national priority. What we don’t need is blind advocacy. If you are going to criticize the President, at least be honest with your data. Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Retired […]

The post Blind Advocacy of Offender Rehabilitation Programs Hurts All appeared first on Crime in America.Net.

Highlights Offender recidivism after prison is horrendous. Programs have little to no effect. We need a research initiative similar to cancer. It should be a national priority. What we don’t need is blind advocacy. If you are going to criticize the President, at least be honest with your data. Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Retired […]

The post Blind Advocacy of Offender Rehabilitation Programs Hurts All appeared first on Crime in America.Net.


Moms Play Critical Role in Reducing Recidivism: Study

While research has shown that family visits to incarcerated individuals can reduce recidivism, a recent study in the Criminal Justice and Behavior journal suggests that the quality of inmates’ relationships with their mothers is one of the best predictors of whether they will re-offend.

While research has shown that family visits to incarcerated individuals can reduce recidivism, a recent study suggests that the quality of inmates’ relationships with their mothers is a better predictor of whether they will re-offend.

In a recent longitudinal study published in Criminal Justice and Behavior, researchers surveyed 205 female and male adult inmates serving up to two years in five southern correctional facilities.  Most of the participants had relatively
extensive arrest histories,  and were incarcerated, on average, for 8½ months.

The researchers assessed the quality of inmates’ relationships with their mothers, fathers, and romantic partners by measuring the importance of each relationship, the level of warmth and affection received, the amount of support and encouragement received, and the inmates’ overall level of satisfaction with the relationship.

Then they extrapolated official visitation data obtained from the state’s Department of Corrections that included the number of visits inmates received from their mothers, fathers and romantic partners; and recidivism data obtained from official Department of Public Safety criminal history records.

They found that inmates who had a higher quality relationship with their mother prior to incarceration not only had higher odds of being visited by their mother, but also had significantly lower chances of recidivating.

Neither the quality of the inmate’s relationship with their father nor romantic partner were significantly related to recidivism.

Although the quality of pre-incarceration relationships is significantly associated with visitation, visits alone do not reduce recidivism, according to the study.

“Findings indicate that quality of an inmate’s pre-incarceration relationships is more important in reducing the odds of recidivism than visitation,” the researchers wrote.

“Most critical, a strong maternal relationship prior to incarceration was associated with a reduction in recidivism subsequent to a period of incarceration.”

The authors offered some possible explanations for mothers’ crucial role in reducing recidivism:

  • Previous research studies have documented the unique and unconditional bond between mothers and their children.
  • The rise of single-parent households since the 1960s has diminished fathers’ involvement in their children’s lives.

The data shows a stark contrast between mothers and fathers.

While inmates indicated having the highest-quality relationship with their mother compared to their father and romantic partners, inmates had the lowest quality relationship with their father.

Furthermore, 34 percent of inmates were visited at least once by their mother, but only 10 percent were visited by their father.

The study was conducted by Cassandra A. Atkin-Plunk , an assistant professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University; and Gaylene S. Armstrong, director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice in the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

The full study is available for purchase only here.

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern J. Gabriel Ware.


‘Never Give Up:’ A Returning Citizen Finds Hope After Prison

Obtaining a steady job has been a struggle for former Syracuse, N.Y. parolee Shallah “Brooklyn” Beal, who was released in 2016 after serving three years for assault. But he discovered that the first, and hardest challenge, is to break down the emotional walls he built in prison—and learn to trust in himself.

By his own account, “Brooklyn” Beal has “trust issues.”

He tells his story haltingly, slowly, incompletely— part of the process of getting over the issues that defined the pain-packed 40 years lived by the man born Shallah J. Beal. Some days he is upbeat, almost chatty. Other days, he borders on morose, and a talk with Beal feels dark.

He has his family (two daughters), a girlfriend and an apartment with his brother.

Missing from that list: a steady job.

“I didn’t go to school to work at McDonald’s,” he said, noting he’s taken civil service exams, but still hasn’t found steady work.

Not for lack of trying.

This summer he earned three certificates at the Syracuse Educational Opportunity Center, becoming OSHA-10, OSHA-30 and lead-certified, all of which are construction health and safety trainings.

“I’m told those certificates will go a long way in making me desirable for future construction jobs,” he said. “But I don’t wait for them to call me because then nothing would happen. I call every week — every Monday — to make sure they know I’m seeking work.”

Finding a job is one of the hardest things for parolees like Beal, who was released from prison in 2016 after serving three years for assault. An Urban Institute study found that only one in three parolees had found a job within two months of release.

And difficulty finding work is a key factor in whether a person released from jail is arrested again, the Bureau of Justice Statistics concluded in 2018.

The bureau tracked more than 400,000 people released from state prison in 2005, and found that 83 percent were arrested at least once by 2014, according to its 2018 report. Blacks had the highest recidivism rates, at nearly 87 percent, and male parolees were more likely to be re-arrested than females, the study also found.

Opening up helps Beal. Although talking doesn’t come with a paycheck, it does inspire self-reflection and a measure of optimism.

That’s part of the goal PEACE Inc., a local community service agency whose primary mission is to help individuals and families living in poverty, has in engaging men like Beal.

Charles Rivers

Charles Rivers returned to Syracuse in 2012 after serving 19 years, 9 months and 4 days in prison.Photo by Zachary Krahmer/The Stand

At PEACE’s Southside Family Resource Center, Beal speaks up around others at the encouragement of the center’s coordinator, Charles Rivers, who spent three decades in and out of prison. Rivers’ own journey has seen him evolve from a withdrawn ex-con to a confident advocate, comfortable leading groups of strangers through intimate discussions.

Rivers says one of the hardest things to endure for ex-offenders is coming out of jail when there’s no family or friends to greet you, and nowhere to go. PEACE makes sure Beal has that, and a friend when he might think there is no one.

Beal completed a three-year parole term at the end of 2017, and when he first arrived at PEACE, he was guarded and quiet. Many of the members knew him as someone who would come to PEACE to chat briefly with those he knew and then go about his business.

But after some time, he took to more people and started to relax. He is still private. He was not comfortable with reporters visiting where he lives, preferring to meet at PEACE. He also promised to connect reporters with his oldest daughter. He never did.

Emotional Walls

He says being jailed repeatedly, dealing with family and friends’ deaths, and being away from his own children built the emotional walls around him.

“That’s one of the things I’m most happy about,” Beal said. “I told myself I’d open my mouth more, and I am. I want to tell my story. That’s the whole reason for this. I got trust issues. … I been through some real (stuff) a lot of people wouldn’t understand. But I am getting better with who I’m talking to.”

Middle school and puberty were tough for Beal. He was sent to a juvenile facility for defending his mom from her abusive boyfriend, he said. More assault charges followed. He was last charged for assault in 2013.

Beal’s nickname comes from growing up in the projects of Brooklyn, New York, during the 1980s and 1990s. Those decades were the worst years to grow up in the city, Beal said. Crack, cocaine and PCP were all out of control.

“It was hell,” he said when describing the drugs and killings that surrounded him.

Born when his mother was 16, his grandmother assumed full custody. Beal credits her for raising him. His mom was one of 10 siblings. He has over 50 cousins. His household was always crowded — with an average of three people to a bed, he said.

Beal has suffered a lot of loss. His mother died recently, and he lost several friends last winter and spring, including one who was shot and killed at a party in Syracuse. Beal said he had thought about attending the party.

His first brush with trouble was at age 12, when he said he stabbed his mother’s boyfriend after one of the many times she was beaten. He said he doesn’t remember how many times he was sent to jail before he was given a chance in the summer of 1994 to attend Cayuga (NY) Community College. He received his associate’s degree in business administration.

But he fell in and out of trouble again, the last time in 2013 when he was convicted for assault and gun possession. The three years in state prison that followed, combined with participating in programs and playing basketball, changed his mindset. He knew he had to get out of the projects, get out from under a “black cloud,” and start fresh.

Over the last year, PEACE used a $95,000 state grant for a pilot program to help just-released offenders reunite with families in public housing, which has strict rules limiting who is allowed to move in. Experts acknowledge family support is vital to break a chain of repeat offenses.

PEACE used the funds to help people like Beal, who now lives with his brother in private housing, by preparing for a job with resume-building, setting up mock interviews or returning to school, according to the organization. PEACE also provides a place to go, to hang out, to remember good times and to reflect on positive experiences.

Funding ran out for the pilot program in February 2018. The state is still reviewing the renewal application. Rivers said PEACE will continue its role whether or not the grant is renewed.

Beal credits his strength of getting through his lows to memories of his late mother and his two daughters.

“Never give up,” he said. “That’s one thing I do.”

But that isn’t easy. When he tried to get a job before — and again now — he becomes frustrated.

“That’s when reality hit, and I had a reality check,” he said.

Surviving in Prison: “Fight or Flight”

He describes prison as a place where you activate “fight-or-flight” survival mode. He said he has had to re-learn what it meant to strive for things like a steady job.

Beal says now he just wants to reach his goal: to be “comfortable.”

One threat to that “comfort” is being around the same things that got him in trouble in the first place. While he was incarcerated, Beal said he was around a lot of fighting, drugs and homemade alcohol.

“Being around all that is something I don’t want to keep doing,” Beal said. “I’m trying to make smart choices. I ain’t on no block or on a corner. I know the consequences of what can happen.

“I’m a grown man now.”

Beal has big goals for his future, his family, and what he wants to achieve over the rest of his life. He has two daughters he talks to every day. His first-born is 22 years old and set to graduate from Buffalo State in May.

“That’s my motivation,” he explained. His second daughter lives with his aunt in Brooklyn, and is just six. He hopes that one day they can all be reunited and live happily together as a family.

“I love my family,” he said. “They’re my rock.”

He wants to be someone they can look to. He is talking his way through it, feeling better.

“I’m not far,” Beal said, “from being where I want to be.”

This is a condensed and slightly edited version of a story published in The Stand, a community newspaper produced in Syracuse, N.Y., in partnership with S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Ashley Kang, director of The Stand, is a 2018 John Jay/H.F. Guggenheim Justice Reporting Fellow. Click here for an earlier story in The Stand’s “Prison-to-Family series. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Johnson v United States: Three Years Later

The Supreme Court struck down a part of the Armed Career Criminal Act that permitted sentencing enhancements for repeat violent offenders in 2015. But the debate over its impact on public safety and recidivism continues, pitting Attorney General Jeff Sessions against proponents of sentencing reform.

In at least two speeches this August, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the consequences of a three-year-old Supreme Court decision “devastating for Americans.”

He was referring to Johnson v. United States, a 2015 ruling in which the Supreme Court struck down the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), finding it unconstitutionally vague.

ACCA imposes sentencing enhancements on repeat offenders who commit crimes with guns. Specifically, under ACCA, a defendant who is convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm and who has three or more prior convictions for serious drug offenses or violent felonies is subject to an increased prison term of at least 15 years.

The residual clause had included under the definition of “violent felony” any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year that “involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.”

After the decision in Johnson, individuals sentenced under ACCA’s now-defunct residual clause filed petitions for collateral review, a procedure that allows prisoners, within certain constraints, to ask a court to amend their sentences. Additional follow-on litigation to Johnson has involved questions about other aspects of ACCA’s “violent felony” definition, as in next term’s United States v. Stitt, as well as vagueness challenges to definitions of “violent felony” in other statutes, as in last term’s Sessions v. Dimaya.

But even as these and other challenges play out in the courts, Johnson’s real-world consequences in the three years since the case was decided raise other questions about recidivism, re-entry and policy.

For example, have people sentenced as career offenders and released early after Johnson gone on to commit more crimes? If some have, are certain, less vague sentence enhancements — as Sessions has recommended and as new legislation introduced by two Republican senators would impose — the proper “fix” to Johnson?

This post looks at some of the different factors at play.

Recidivism and Reentry After Johnson

In his speeches, Sessions indicated that Johnson “has resulted” in more than 1,400 inmates obtaining early release from sentences originally enhanced for prior convictions under ACCA’s residual clause. Of this population, he said, 600 have been arrested again.

Sessions highlighted certain crimes. For instance, in a speech on Aug. 1, he discussed six individuals who allegedly went on to commit murder, rape and aggravated assault after their release.

“Releasing repeat offenders has consequences,” he said.

Sessions called this recidivism rate “staggering” and “likely an underrepresentation” of illegal activity. He also cited a 2016 U.S. Sentencing Commission report on recidivism that found a 69.5 percent recidivism rate for people sentenced as career offenders, including those sentenced under ACCA.

Sentencing-reform advocates question the conclusions Sessions drew from his data.

Priya Raghavan of the Brennan Center for Justice observes that it’s unclear from Sessions’ speech what offenses caused the rearrests. She also suggests that the individuals specifically mentioned by Sessions are not representative of the entire population of 1,400 released prisoners. She points to two studies by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the one on recidivism mentioned by Sessions and one on career-offender sentencing enhancements.

The second report indicates that the most frequent “most serious” offense committed by people sentenced as career offenders who were rearrested was assault, not homicide or rape. The report also reveals that the percentage of rearrested career offenders who had assault as their most serious new charge (24.9 percent) was the same as for non-career offenders.

Raghavan clarifies that assaults are not all violent; simple assault “typically involves only a verbal threat against another person.”

The career-offender report does not include the percentages of rearrested career offenders who had homicide or rape as their “most serious” recidivism offense. However, the recidivism report shows that homicide and rape were the “most serious” post-release offenses committed by only 1.3 percent and 1.9 percent of all rearrested offenders, respectively. It’s not clear how many homicides and rapes were committed by people sentenced as career offenders, but Raghavan believes these low rates suggest that only a small percentage of the 600 rearrested prisoners released after Johnson committed such crimes.

Even for those who have recidivated, the extent to which being released early after Johnson contributed to their recidivism remains unclear. Amy Baron-Evans, the national sentencing resource counsel for Federal Public and Community Defenders, adds that the proper comparison for recidivism by those released early after Johnson would be with recidivism by those who served full sentences under ACCA’s enhancement.

It is “too early” for such an analysis after Johnson, but Baron-Evans points to a third U.S. Sentencing Commission report, “Recidivism Among Federal Offenders Receiving Retroactive Sentence Reductions: The 2011 Fair Sentencing Act Guideline Amendment.”

Although focused not on those sentenced as armed career criminals, but on drug offenders who received a sentence reduction after the Sentencing Commission gave retroactive effect to an FSA guideline amendment for certain drug offenses, the report reveals “no difference in the recidivism rates of offenders who were released” early and “similar offenders who served their full sentences.”

To confront recidivism, Sessions called on Congress to “fix the law so violent career criminals are not let out of jail early.” But Raghavan contests the implication that longer sentences will lower crime rates.

A Brennan Center report, “How Many Americans Are Unnecessarily Incarcerated?,” reviews social science that “indicates that in the worst case scenario, longer lengths of stay produce higher recidivism rates, while the best case scenario points to diminishing returns of incarceration on public safety.”

John Seibler, a legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, suggests that longer sentences can reduce recidivism somewhat because individuals “age out” of criminality. However, echoing Raghavan, Seibler reports “general consensus” among researchers about the importance of prison programming toward reducing recidivism.

And indeed, to the extent that inmates released after Johnson have recidivated, that may be in part because they did not receive re-entry programming, despite the existence of policies promoting such support.

According to a 2007 program statement, the Federal Bureau of Prisons claims that the reduction of inmate recidivism is an objective of its Release Preparation Program. This program includes classes on different topics, such as employment and personal finance. Inmates “should enroll” in the program “no later than 30 months prior” to release. Additionally, a “unit release preparation phase” provides inmates with individual assistance from staff, which “usually begins in earnest” 11 to 13 months before release. This phase includes a focus on concrete “release plans” that address aftercare, conditions of supervision, release destination, relocation, residence and employment.

Inmates bringing Johnson claims for shortened sentences were often not in the final 13 or even 30 months of their original sentences. As a result, they did not all receive adequate re-entry planning before they were released, according to Benji McMurray, an assistant federal public defender in Utah. McMurray adds that the bureau rebuffed his attempts to coordinate important late-stage programming for his Johnson clients.

Bureau policy does state that “inmates are encouraged to participate in RPP courses throughout their confinement,” but McMurray says his clients report that meaningful opportunities did not always exist or were not helpful. Todd Bussert, an attorney in private practice with more than 20 years’ experience addressing issues related to the bureau, including as a member of the Sentencing Commission’s Practitioners’ Advisory Group, says of the bureau’s re-entry services that “a chasm between policy and practice” exists, so that the stated policy is not a “true barometer” of what is available to prisoners.

McMurray’s and Bussert’s anecdotal concerns find support in the Office of the Inspector General’s 2016 Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Release Preparation Program. The report, which was not focused just on those released as a result of Johnson, indicates that the bureau “does not ensure that the RPP meets inmate needs” and “releases many inmates who have not completed the RPP.”

Despite recidivism by some after Johnson, there are success stories as well. McMurray reports that clients of his have gone to school and joined the work force. One now runs a mechanics business.

Congressional Response

Earlier this month, two Republican senators, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, introduced the Restoring the Armed Career Criminal Act to, as they wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, “fix the law that was struck down.” In their press releases announcing the proposed legislation, Hatch and Cotton mentioned victims in their states whom Sessions also discussed.

According to a one-pager about the legislation, the act “would do away with the concepts of ‘violent felony’ and ‘serious drug offense’ and replace them with a single category of ‘serious felony.’ A serious felony would be any crime punishable by 10 years or more.”

Brian Colas, Cotton’s general counsel, and Baron-Evans agree that this new legislation would avoid the vagueness problems of the original ACCA residual clause. They disagree on how broadly the law would sweep. Whereas Colas points to the fact the crimes must be punishable by 10 years or more, which he takes as a proxy for the high seriousness of an offense, Baron-Evans worries about the many people regularly sentenced to less than 10 years but for whom 10 years or more would represent a statutory maximum.

Raghavan suggests that subjecting drug offenders to the same sentencing enhancement as violent offenders may not be warranted based on recidivism rates. In its 2016 report on people sentenced as career offenders, the Sentencing Commission split individuals into three categories: career offenders with only drug-trafficking offenses, those with only violent offenses, and those with mixed offenses.

People sentenced as career offenders with only drug-trafficking offenses had a lower recidivism rate than those in the other categories. Among those who did recidivate, those with only drug-trafficking offenses “tended to take longer to do so” than those in the other categories. Additionally, “offenders in the other two pathways who were rearrested were more likely to have been rearrested for another violent offense” than offenders with only drug-trafficking offenses.

The next step for the legislation is the Senate Judiciary Committee. Colas estimates that it will take six to eight months for this legislation to get through the committee. He notes that the act will be absorbed into a “broader fight” for criminal justice reform in Congress.

Andrew Hamm

Andrew Hamm

At the same time, Seibler observes that “if there’s anything Congress can efficiently pass, it’s a criminal penalty, especially when law enforcement wants it.”

Andrew Hamm, a scholar and commentator on the Supreme Court, writes the SCOTUSblog. A 2012 graduate of Harvard University, where he studied archaeology and government, Hamm previously completed a fellowship at the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy and an internship with the Campaign for Youth Justice. The Crime Report is pleased to reprint this blog article with the permission of the author, and welcomes comments from readers.


The High Cost of Recidivism in Illinois: $13 Billion Over 5 Years

The estimated figure would be even higher if recidivism had not begun to decline since 2015, thanks to programs aimed at helping former inmates reintegrate into civilian society, according to a new study.

Recidivism now costs Illinois taxpayers over $1.5 billion a year —but the bill would be much higher if the state had not introduced programs aimed at improving counseling and other services dedicated to helping former inmates reintegrate into civilian society, according to a study by the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council (SPAC).

Projected over a five-year period that takes account of “accumulating” costs of sending people back to prison, the bill for recidivism in Illinois will be $13 billion if current trends continue, said the study authors, who based their estimate on the current recidivism patterns of the 59,000 individuals who are expected to be released from prison or sentenced to probation each year over this period.

 The study, which used cost-benefit analysis to arrive at what it called “the true cost of crime,” calculated that each time an inmate returns to prison because of a new crime or a violation of community supervision guidelines, it costs the state $151,662—representing an increase of 30 per cent since SPAC last examined the data in 2015.

Almost half of that cost ($75,408) is attributed to the “tangible and intangible costs borne by victims” of the new crime, according to the study. The resources used by law enforcement, court costs and renewed incarceration account for a third. Indirect costs make up the remainder.

According to the study, criminal history records show that those who recidivate account for a “substantial portion” crimes in Illinois each year.

“Each new conviction, each recidivating event, represents additional victimizations and costs to the system which accumulate over time,” the study explained.

But that estimate was still roughly $1 billion less than estimates of recidivism’s cost in the 2015 study, thanks to a decline in the numbers of those sent back to prison in the three years since.

SPAC, an independent commission of criminal justice stakeholders that reports to all three branches of government in the state, said the decline in repeat offenders was due to “evidence-based interventions,” such as reentry programs and social service counseling, designed to “help put offenders on the path to productive citizenship.”

It warned: “If recidivism is not addressed using research and cost-benefit analysis, the people of Illinois will continue to pay the high cost of maintaining the status quo.”

The studies, completed with the assistance of the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative, offer some important clues for other states dealing with recidivism, according to analysts.

“Illinois is one of many states embracing evidence-based policymaking to make more informed, strategic investments that generate positive outcomes for residents and get the most from taxpayer dollars,” wrote the analysts: Sara Dube, a director of the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative; Steve Lize, an officer of the Initiative; and Alyssa Doom, a senior associate.

In Illinois, 43 percent of those released from prison each year are returned to prison for new crimes or probation violations, and 17 percent will recidivate within one year of release.

The full SPAC study is available here.


Are Fewer Returns to Prison in Society’s Best Interest?

Background Pew offers data (below) showing a decrease in returns to prison. It uses US Department of Justice research. While we have no reason to dispute the findings, the question is why? Are fewer returns (revocations) to prison in our best interest? Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning […]

The post Are Fewer Returns to Prison in Society’s Best Interest? appeared first on Crime in America.Net.

Background Pew offers data (below) showing a decrease in returns to prison. It uses US Department of Justice research. While we have no reason to dispute the findings, the question is why? Are fewer returns (revocations) to prison in our best interest? Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning […]

The post Are Fewer Returns to Prison in Society’s Best Interest? appeared first on Crime in America.Net.