Returning to prison for paroled inmates: Introduction
The prison population in the United has steadily risen over the past three decades. Since 2008, the prison population has slowly been decreasing; however, as of 2012, there were still more than 2 million confined in US jails and prisons. The report of the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) aver that since 1990, more than 590,000 convicts are discharged yearly from the correctional system in the Federal and state jurisdictions, and more than 5 million former inmates are under community based monitoring programs. It is expected that upon release from prison or community based programs, these will seek to reintegrate themselves into the native communities (James, 2015, p. 2).
However, a disturbing reality is that of the large population that is discharged from the prison system, there is a high probability that 40 percent of those released will be re-incarcerated within a period of three years. The cycle of reduplicated arrest and imprisonment inflicts a high costs for the various jurisdictions in the United States. In total, states have to spend an additional $52 billion annually in funding for correctional facilities and systems. This is a staggering amount, yet studies have shown that this figure has grown to four times this amount over the past two decades as the shifting focus of the law enforcement establishment, inclusive of the “War on Drugs,” have resulted in more intrusive policing methods, criminalizing more activities and imprisonments.
However, the effects cannot be measured in terms of dollars alone. These former inmates as well as their families and neighborhoods are negatively impacted from the effects of their crimes and from the operation of a criminal justice system that is incapable to aid them in successfully reintegrate into their communities after these have been released. Reentry back into their communities can also be extremely difficult for their victims who often times live in the same community. Majority of these former offenders-many of which reside or come from impoverished neighborhoods- lacks the ability to acquire gainful employment, rid themselves from addictions, and avoid being connected to gangs upon their release.
Here, these ex-convicts, faced with a dearth of employment opportunities and a sellable skill sets, would rather opt to slide back into a life crime. Many of the former offenders would be rearrested and sent back to prison on technicalities, inclusive of violating curfew regulations or for substance and alcohol test violations.
Ex-offenders will confess that the odium of being a former criminal and “having a record” can remain on the person for his/her entire lifetime. In the opinion to Fortune Society Vice President Glenn Martin, when inmates are discharged from the correctional system, these are filled with promise and desire to turn around things around for themselves and their families. However, reality quickly sets in for these individuals. The stigma of having been convicted for a crime, any crime, dashes any hope for them to lead a “normal” life.
Martin even asserts that in a number of jurisdictions, former offenders are barred from being able to avail of public housing. Other states prohibit former offenders access to welfare programs. With the onset of digital background checks, employers have discovered a swift and inexpensive method to single out, majority of the time against the law, and isolate applicants with criminal records. Martin, an ex-convict who served out six years in prison, avers that when these people believe that no one cares about them, whether these improve themselves or not, it is easy for them to slide back into their former criminal lives rather than even try to reintegrate themselves and become productive members of society (Lee, 2012, p. 1).
Though reoffending rates differ between jurisdictions, the national statistics has remained relatively stable. However, exposure to the one’s former way of life is only one of the possible triggers back to the road back to prison. Analysts aver that aside from the social environment, a number of social and economic factors increase the possibility of recidivating. In the context of East Harlem, experts hold that the high level of imprisonment and reoffending rates on the persisting rate of poverty, a concourse of public housing complexes, inordinate inequalities in the level of education and a long record of street crews and illegal drugs (Lee, 2012, p. 1).
In New York’s East Harlem locale, this is considered as “ground zero” for reentering ex-offenders in New York. A seven block area from Lexington Avenue connecting 119th and 126th Streets is where a high concentration of ex-offenders resides compared to any other neighborhood in the city. In the data gathered by New York’s Justice Mapping Center, 2,200 individuals return to East Harlem after serving out their sentences or after being paroled.
The enticements and the obstacles were stalking these individuals at every turn in the neighborhood. Interactions with the peoples from the “bad old days” will test the resolve in staying the course in looking to “turn a new leaf” as well as complying with the provisions of their parole. All associations with other former offenders will be considered as an infringement of the terms of the release of the former offender.
For example, it is noted that in East Harlem, one in every 20 men have been found guilty of committing a felony offense; however, in the context of the former offender, the most mundane trip to the neighborhood store can trigger the possibility of being rearrested and re-incarceration. However, for former offenders determined to move forward, these would have to avoid the people that played a major role in their imprisonment.
Also, these would have to evade enemies on the streets as well as those “acquired” during their term of incarceration. These individuals will eventually run into old acquaintances in their communities. These old friends would pay for the person’s meal or give them small amounts of money to tide them over until time that these can “stand on their own.” However, accepting the aid usually comes with “strings:” either favors that need to be complied with or other actions that can result in the former offender again getting arrested and returned to prison (Lee, 2011, p. 1).
Comparing this area with other disciplines in social science, there has been a considerable dearth in credible, extensively analyzed research activities on the topic of offender reentry. Withal in recent times, there has been a growing attention on the subject and a number of new research actions have been released. These developments have allowed scholars to conduct the initial set of meta-analyses on the subject of offender reentry. A number of the studies have been closely associated with the “what works” concept developed by researchers in Maryland for the Congressional report of the National Institute of Justice.
The paradigm was modified to embrace the area of offender reentry in a study in 2003 at St. Louis University. The concept seeks to discover effective programs by developing a rating mechanism to examine and rate studies and whether these researches have made an impact. Innate to this methodology is the requirement to discover processes that gives proof regarding the impact the initiative had on specific result outputs. The “what works” concept mainly centers on whether researches have attained certain goals (James, 2015, p. 12).
James (2015) avers that at any point, inmates that are presently incarcerated in the country’s prisons and jails will be released and return to their respective communities. “Offender reentry” initiatives will comprise of all the actions and procedures done to ready the soon-to-be former inmate to reintegrate themselves into their communities and then become productive, law abiding citizens. Nevertheless, a number of former convicts will reoffend and return to prison. In the 2005 study of the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), nearly 75 percent of those released from prison will be rearrested and imprisoned after 5 years of their release.
In addition, majority of these reoffenders will come into conflict with the law after being convicted of a new crime or having violated the terms of their conditional release. In comparison to the general population, former delinquents have lower educational attainment; moreover, these will have a lower chance to find gainful employment, and generally have a history of substance abuse or mental instability-all factors that significantly contribute to the possibility of a person recidivating.
Although recidivism has been defined in a number of ways, the subject has been difficult to investigate and study. Essentially, there are two contending principles on how recidivism should be interpreted. One, any new conflict with the law, no matter how small, should be regarded as recidivism by the former offender. On the other side of the recidivism aisle are those that proffer the condition that recidivism must be more circumscribed in its definition. These argue that recidivism must only be understood as the “commission of a new crime that draws a new conviction by a former offender.
However, there are still difficulties being encountered at arriving at a universal definition for recidivism. Monitoring recidivist trends involves examining individual cases for a specific period and depending on state or Federal data that have innate flaws. If an ex-convict is discharged from California, and then re-offends in another jurisdiction, researchers must have the capacity to match the two records to make a complete statement on recidivism (James, 2015, p. 11). In one of the most extensive studies addressing the topic, the Pew Center on the States discovered that the prison system, the mechanism designed to deter criminality, actually does not have any effect. In the Public Safety Performance Project of the Center, the mechanism geared to deter future criminal behavior is not deterring anyone (Johnson, 2011, p. 1).
What is disturbing is that jurisdictions tend to distend the actual statistics regarding recidivism. For example, a number of newspapers trumpeted the successful interventions of the New York Department of Corrections regarding the dramatic reductions in recidivism in the state. On a national scale, the figures for recidivism are disquieting; on the whole, the numbers for New York have been static since the middle of the 1990s. The report from the state displayed rates for recidivism has stayed at stable rates for inmates discharged from the period of 1996 and 2010.
However, the state Department of Corrections drew attention to “read between the lines.” The data showed that though the statistics were unmoved, from 1985 to 2010, a 10 percent decrease in the amount of ex-offenders being re-incarcerated owing to new convictions was seen. Majority of the recidivist cases in the state, approximately 3 out of 4 instances, were initiated by infringements of the parole terms compared to new convictions. Among these violations were failures to comply with mandatory substance abuse testing or failure to meet with parole officers (Goldstein, 2014, p. 1).
In her work, Life after Murder: Five Men in Search of Redemption (2012), Nancy Mullane examined recidivism statistics particularly among killers. Her work profiled five killers sentenced to more than 20 years or more prior to being released on parole. Mullane averred that once individuals were sent to prison or jail, society generally forgets about them; this negates any possibility of examining any chance of improvement or rehabilitation.
In essence, society adheres to “once a murderer, always a murderer.” Mullane’s study showed that a number of murderers have successfully reintegrated themselves into society, teaching a number of critical lessons on restoration, recovery, and significantly destroying one’s life and teaching society that these can come back and once again become productive members of society.
Mullane’s research pointed out that California’s prison system released more than 980 people over a course of 20 years. Of that number, a mere one percent was rearrested for the commission of new crimes while 10 percent of the lot was arrested for violating their parole conditions. Interestingly, Mullane’s research showed of the killers released by the California correctional system, none of these were rearrested for murder and more significantly is that none of the sample returned to prison in the time frame studied (Slifer, 2014, p. 1).
Current research acknowledges two widely held sources for Federal recidivism rates have been the tow research papers of the BJS of the Department of Justice. The most up to date of the reports that monitored felons discharged from the state prison system, evinced that a little over half of the inmates in the report reoffended and were sent back to jail within three years either for the commission of a new crime or breaking the rules of their parole. The Pew Center on the States, in a collaborative work with the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA), launched an extensive poll targeted at developing the initial state-by-state examination and assessment of recidivism measures.
In the data, 45 percent of individuals discharged from the prison system in 1999 and 43 percent of those released in 2004 were re-incarcerated within three years of their release. Though variegations in poll approaches muddle direct assessments of recidivism statistics over time, a correlation of the states involved in the Pew and the ASCA surveys have remained largely unchanged. The new statistics show that even with the massive increase in funding allocation for corrections, the state correctional system has seen little improvement. If four out of 10 ex-convicts will eventually be rearrested and sent back to prison, it can be definitively stated that the system geared to deter them from persisting in their current criminal activities or to intimidate them from pursuing a “life of crime” in the future is falling short of its intended objective. This is an unfortunate reality, not just for the felons, but more importantly for the general American public (Pew Center on the States, 2011, p. 11).
The calculation method employed by the Federal government in measuring recidivism involves three components: rearrests, reconvictions, and returns to incarceration. These components are measured from a one- to five-year time frame from the release of the offender. Contrasting this report is a well-recognized 2011 research of the Pew Center that depended solely on the self-disclosure initiatives of the states of a solitary element, the collective number of former offenders who reoffended and were re-incarcerated within a three year time frame.
However, both the Pew and national government studies have a severe limitation; these left out an entire sector of ex-convicts. The studies did not factor in or consider ex-convicts that did reoffend and yet were not rearrested. This is the reason that a number of research activities in the field of recidivism, such as the study done by UCLA on the link between methamphetamine use and recidivism, is heavily dependent on the action of the subject to disclose nefarious actions.
An additional flaw in the area of recidivism research is the time frame that these studies embrace. Though the time period of three- to five-years is the recognized optimal standard, many research initiatives prescribe a smaller time period. For example, a contemporary study in Oregon parenting program claimed that recidivism was reduced by as much as 59 percent for female ex-offenders and 27 percent for men. However, the flaw in the study was that the monitoring was terminated after a one year period after release. It must be noted that it is possible for possibilities for reoffending decreases after a year. Nevertheless, the report of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 13 percent of ex-convicts will be rearrested and re-incarcerated within four years (Goldstein, 2014, p. 1).
Data gathered by the BJS evinced a higher proportion of property criminals were rearrested compared to those who were initially arrested and imprisoned for violent crimes, drug-related and offenses associated with public order. After the five year monitoring period, more than 80 percent of discharged property felons were rearrested. This figure is compared to 76 percent of offenders in illegal drug cases, 73 percent for public order felons and 71 percent for acerbic crime offenders. The general recidivism trend persisted regardless of the offender type that was discharged. Majority of the discharged felons, regardless of their previous criminal actions, were likely to be rearrested within a one year time period and the increment in the share of prisoners of rearrested offenders started to decrease in relation to the time that the felons were outside of the correctional system.
Furthermore, BJS data also showed that offenders with longer criminal records were seen to be more likely to be rearrested within a five year time frame. An estimated 86 percent of all discharged prisoners with a record of 10 or more previous imprisonment instances were rearrested within a time frame of five years. Felons with lesser than four arrests were rearrested within five years 60 percent of the time, and nearly 76 percent of discharged prisoners with five to nine arrests were rearrested within the same time frame (James, 2015, p. 1).
A number of jurisdictions are currently implementing a combination of programs that have proven effective the patterns of recidivism in former offenders. Studies show that the biggest decreases are actualized when evidence based agendas and policies are operated in correctional facilities and regulate the monitoring of probationers and parolees in the community immediately and in the short-term after their discharge. While developing an extensive reentry policy is far beyond the actions of recent studies, experts in the discipline have given beneficial resources for policy makers and practitioners to use (Pew, 2011, p. 26).
However, what must be closely monitored is the initial three to six months period the offender is at home. This period, according to Exodus Transitional Community founder Julio Medina, will determine if the ex-convict will relapse. In its methodology in reducing recidivism in East Harlem, the group uses an integrated with the people that it serves. The group assesses each of its client’s unique histories, skill sets and inclinations to develop programs to each of them and give them with the needed resources to help former felons avoid reoffending.
Using this approach, Exodus has been able to realize recidivism rates far below the Federal average, and has seen a dramatic increase in the number of former felons acquiring gainful employment among its client base. To illustrate its success rate, of the more than 350 participants that attended the group’s meetings last year, a mere percent of the sample were rearrested and sent back to prison. This is in complete contrast to the prevailing paradigm where the psychological and physical needs were attended to, and where the offenders were “stored” until such time that the offender served out their punishment (Lee, 2012, p. 1).
One of the best tools to ensure that former felons will not relapse is the support of one’s family. In a 2012 Vera Institute research, it was found that men and women in prison who maintain a supportive relationship with their families have a higher probability of success after their discharge. Many experts maintain that the support of family is one of the best mechanisms to ensure the possibility of the offender succeeding in their transition from the prison to the outside community (Friedmann, 2014, p. 1).
Friedmann, A. (2014) “Lowering recidivism through family communication” Retrieved 27 June 2015 from <https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2014/apr/15/lowering-recidivism-through-family-communication/
Goldstein, D (2014) “The misleading math of recidivism” Retrieved 27 June 2015 from <https://www.themarshallproject.org/2014/12/04/the-misleading-math-of-recidivism
James, N (2015) “Offender reentry: correctional statistics, reintegration into the community, and recidivism” Retrieved 27 June 2015 from <https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL34287.pdf
Johnson, K (2011, April 13) Study: Prisons failing to deter repeat criminals in 41 states. USA Today Nation
Lee, T (2012) “Recidivism hard to shake for ex-offenders returning home to dim prospects” Retrieved 27 June 2015 from <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/09/recidivism-harlem-convicts_n_1578935.html
Pew Center on the States (2011) “State of recidivism: the revolving door of America’s prisons” Retrieved 2015 June 27 from <http://i.usatoday.net/news/pdf/PewCenterontheStates,PSPPRecidivismReport.pdf
Slifer, S (2014). “Once a criminal, always a criminal?” Retrieved 27 June 2015 from <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/once-a-criminal-always-a-criminal/
Offenders will eventually be released and return to their native communities and neighborhoods. At first hearing, average Americans cringe at the prospect at former offenders-killers, robbers, gang members, illegal drug traffickers, and a host of others-will return to the community where these did their damage. However, is this passing judgment on former offenders justifying the stigma attached to them? Does this mean that offenders are “bad to the bone” or do former felons look to turn a new leaf? The paper seeks to review the literature on the reasons former felons relapse and the steps and policies that can be taken to avoid reoffending.