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Prisoners Getting Retroactive Relief Have Lower Recidivism Rate

One of the main objections raised to granting retroactive sentence relief under the 2007 Crack Cocaine Amendment was the fear that those prisoners receiving sentence reductions would recidivate at a high rate.  A new study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission shows that those released early recidivate at a lower rate than those who served their full sentences. As a result, there was little objection to the Sentencing Commission’s July 18, 2014 vote making retroactive lower guideline ranges for previously sentenced offenders.

According to the Sentencing Commission, “The overall recidivism rate for the offenders who received retroactive application of the 2007 Crack Cocaine Amendment ... was similar to the recidivism rate for offenders who were released prior to the effective date of the 2007 Crack Cocaine Amendment and who had therefore served their full sentence.”

The Commission continued: “Of the (group who received retroactive relief), 43.3 percent of the offenders re-offended within five years. In the (full sentence group)..., 47.8 percent of offenders re-offended within five years. This difference was not statistically significant.”

The comparison figures were derived by a random sampling of 483 similarly situated crack cocaine offenders who served their complete sentences prior to the retroactivity took effect. In almost all categories, whether racial, gender, or category of crime, those prisoners receiving retroactive sentence relief had slightly lower rates of recidivism.

Higher rates of recidivism in both retroactive and non-retroactive categories were higher for younger offenders, and those released prisoners with higher criminal history score, reflecting a history of more serious crime. More than half of both categories did not recidivate, and of the 40% that did, arrests and revocations comprised approximately 75% and 25% of those released prisoners who returned to confinement.

Hopefully, those prisoners fortunate enough to receive some well-deserved and long-delayed sentence relief in the latest round of Sentencing Commission reductions will continue the trend and break the cycle of recidivism. Doing so would go a long way to promote acceptance of additional sentence relief in the future for other categories of prisoners, and continue the trend of reducing federal prisoner counts at the federal level.


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