More than 40 percent of ex-cons return to jail

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 13, 2011 3:23 PM

BOSTON (Reuters) - Despite more than $50 billion spent on prisons, more than 40 percent of offenders are back behind bars within three years of release, a report on Wednesday showed.

Responding to the Pew Center on the States report, experts blamed high recidivism rates on prisons' emphasis on punishment rather than rehabilitation.

The report covering 1999 to 2004 found a stable rate of recidivism, which is the measure of prisoners returning to jail after committing a new crime or violating parole or probation.

"There's been an enormous escalation in prison spending but a barely noticeable impact on the national recidivism rate," said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States.

Sara Wakefield, an assistant professor of criminology, law and society at the University of California, Irvine, said states, like California, have too many inmates and too few rehabilitation programs to make an impact.

"Prisons are not doing a lot of human capital development and drug treatment and other things that would make you think that inmates would be better off once they leave," she said.

"This path of cycling in and out of prison is not doing anyone any good."

The report pointed to Oregon as a model for reducing recidivism by assessing inmate needs at intake, case management during incarceration and transition planning before release.

A key factor in curbing return-to-prison rates is supervision after release, noted the Pew report. In Oregon, as a result of supervision, parole and probation violations rarely result in ex-convicts being locked up again.

The report estimated that if the 41 states that provided data for 2004 could cut recidivism rates by 10 percent, more than $635 million in combined savings could be recognized.

(Reporting by Lauren Keiper; editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)