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'Smart Justice' Leads to Lower Recidivism Rates in Michigan, 6 Other States

Several states appear to be advancing effective policies to foster successful reentry and reduce recidivism, according to a report from the New York-based Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center.

Based on data tracking prisoners released in 2005 and 2007, three-year recidivism rates in Texas and Ohio fell by 11%, while Kansas' rate decreased 15% and Michigan's rate dropped by 18%. Mississippi, Oregon and Vermont reduced their rates by 9%, 8% and 6%, respectively.

The CSG report, published in December 2013, credited heavy investment in funding for housing, employment, transition support services and community-based programming for Michigan's success in lowering its recidivism rates.

Under Michigan's Prisoner Reentry program—launched in 2003—offenders at the greatest risk of failing on parole are targeted by using standardized assessments to determine which services will reduce their chances of re-offending.

The state's Department of Corrections has also allocated $50 million annually to the endeavor for community-based housing, employer subsidies and programming—funding "derived in part from the savings generated by the closing of 21 correctional facilities and minimum-security camps," the CSG report said.

"We know that the majority of those incarcerated will be rejoining society and their successful reentry is as critical to public safety as a sentence served," Michigan's Republican Gov. Rick Snyder said in response to the CSG report. "Effective prisoner reentry is an important component of smart justice. Michigan's prisoner reentry program has been a major contributor to lower recidivism rates for the state."

In Kansas, its legislature created the state's Criminal Justice Recodification, Rehabilitation and Restoration Committee in 2004 that initially implemented two pilot programs there targeting parolees at high risk of re-offending.

One initiated intensive training to parole officers that "strengthened strategies that connect individuals in need of treatment and services to community-based resources," the report said. The other program invested state funds into county reentry initiatives that connect released prisoners more effectively to housing and job opportunities.

Then, in 2007, Kansas created a performance-based grant platform for parole and probation officers to design local programs to reduce revocations, while also establishing a 60-day earned time credit for prisoners if they successfully complete educational, vocational and treatment programming while incarcerated.

"One of my wardens constantly asks his staff, right down to the line staff, 'What can we do to reduce recidivism?'" said Ray Roberts, head of Kansas' Department of Corrections. "This gets them thinking that reentry is an important part of what they do... that they can do something to improve the likelihood that the people who leave their custody are successful when they return home."

The Texas legislature, in 2007, increased funding for treatment programs and alternatives to incarceration, including transitional housing for parolees and outpatient substance abuse treatment for those on probation. Some technical violators have been diverted to an Intermediate Sanction Facility rather than being sent back to prison.

Similar reforms are credited for lower recidivism rates in Ohio, Oregon, Mississippi and Vermont.

"Reducing recidivism can produce a big payoff," said Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center on the States' Public Safety Performance Project, which provided data for the CSG report. "If states across the country could reduce their recidivism rates by just 10%, they could save more than half a billion dollars combined in one year alone in averted prison costs."

The CSG added that a majority of states, in addition to the seven featured in the report, have now developed or are currently developing plans to reduce recidivism.

Sources: "States Report Reductions in Recidivism," Council of State Governments Justice Center, December 2013,;

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