For most of the decade, the rote stats on recidivism have been, to wit: (1) 700,000 individuals will be released from prison each year, (2) within three years, 66 percent them will be rearrested, and (3) 50 percent of them will return to prison. But some recent publications may herald some good news.
A recidivism study out of the University of Nevada, Reno, suggests that Nevada is doing much better, coming in at tenth best in the nation with a recidivism rate of 29 percent. Arizona is best in the United States with a rate of only 24 percent. What contributes to these gains? District Attorney Arthur Mallory of Churchill County, NV, hypothesizes that "pleasant prisons" may be a factor in other states where recidivism rates are so high. I guess prisons in Nevada aren’t that "pleasant."
Other observers point to inroads and innovations in community corrections and probation supervision as the reason for downturns in recidivism. A recent Pew Center on the States Public Safety Policy Brief hails the gains in reducing recidivism and increasing public safety made by states and communities through the use of community corrections, alternative sanctions to prison, and innovative funding decisions. The informative eight-page report summarizes the progress that community corrections acts have made since the first one was enacted in 1973 in Minnesota. Community corrections acts (which are called a variety of names) formalize a relationship between the state and its jurisdictions to provide alternatives to prison sentences and the high costs of incarceration while maintaining public safety and serving offenders in their communities. In 2007, states paid $47 billion in prison costs and most future projections are for ever-increasing costs. Community corrections can be more effective in the rehabilitation of offenders and use state dollars more efficiently than expensive incarceration. Community corrections can include electronic monitoring, local counseling and treatment, and incentives in sentence, probation, and community service reductions, if probationers comply and perform well. Tougher sanctions are imposed when they don’t.
The usual leaders, Kansas and Arizona, are showing the way in innovative policies that redistribute dollars earmarked for prison costs to community-based agencies that provide quality community corrections support to clients. Agencies are no longer paid per client, but are remunerated based on the performance of the clients in maintaining the straight and narrow (level or reduced probation violations and crimes). These initiatives appear to demonstrate how states and counties can reduce public costs while providing for their citizens, reducing recidivism, and maintaining public safety.