In 2012, the last year for which statistics are available, "there were ...over two million people incarcerated in prisons and jails across the country," according to the Bureau of Justice (BJS) statistics on offender reentry published in 2015. The report highlighted the fact that since 1990, an average of 590,000 prisoners are released every year, and that another five million individuals are under parole, probation, or supervision. This latter figure has not substantially changed in the past ten years.
The report also dealt with the staggering incidence of prisoner recidivism that continues to be a serious problem. According to the report, "nearly three-quarters of ex-offenders released in 2005 came back into contact with the criminal justice system, and more than half returned to prison after either being convicted for a new crime or violating the conditions of their release." The reason, the report points out is clear: "ex-offenders are less educated, less likely to be gainfully employed, and more likely to have a history of mental illness or substance abuse, which some studies have shown might affect at least half of prisoners.
Although the statistics show that the more arrests that ex-offenders have the more likely they will re-offend after release, there is little difference on recidivism rates based upon type of crime, leading to the question: why is recidivism so high?
The BJS report notes that there are three different time periods during which re-entry programs can be helpful: pre-release, immediately after release, and long-term. Pre-release programs focus on education and vocational skills training. Post-release programs include not only assistance with job placement, drug and mental health treatment, and housing assistance.
Unfortunately, as is often the case with the criminal justice system, and especially with the Bureau of Prisons, the problem is not identifying the problems that cause recidisvism, but rather, effectively and energetically solving the problem. Unfortunately, even impressively titled legislation such as the Second-Chance Act of 2008, often lead to no benefit for the released prisoner; too much of the funding goes to law enforcement agencies for programs that are more enforcement than post-conviction assistance. Until the emphasis on prisoner assistance, training, and drug and mental health treatment is increased, the number of imprisoned individuals will continue to remain unacceptable high.
Source: "Offender Reentry: Correctional Statistics, Reintegration Into the Community," by Nathan James, Bureau of Justice Statistics, January 12, 2015.
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