>Users:   login   |  register       > email         > people    


Do Longer Prison Sentences Reduce Recidivism? Federal Drug Trafficking Recidivism is Much Lower Than State Returns
By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Published: 03/06/2017

Razorwire Background

Is there one source for recidivism statistics? There are state level recidivism reports by the US Department of Justice measuring offenders at three and five years after release. The measurements include new arrests, convictions and incarcerations. See Crime in America-Recidivism Report for a comprehensive review of federal and private recidivism studies.

Is rearrest a valid indicator of recidivism? From the United States Sentencing Commission report: To the extent that the rearrest event is an accurate indicator of relapse into criminal behavior, excluding events due to non-conviction or non-incarceration will result in underestimation of recidivism.

What is meant by drug trafficking? From the United States Sentencing Commission report: Federal drug trafficking offenders are primarily convicted of offenses under Title 21 of the U.S. Code. These statutes prohibit the distribution, manufacture, importation, and possession with intent to distribute of controlled substances generally, as well as more specific acts, such as maintaining a drug-involved premises, or the use of a “communication facility” to distribute drugs. These statutes impose mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment (most commonly of five or ten years) on those convicted of trafficking in specified quantities of some drugs.

Our Analysis

State Recidivism

As stated, there are considerable differences between state and federal recidivism rates.

State Recidivism Example: 76.6% of all state prisoners released in 30 states in were arrested for a new crime or technical violation within five years of release.

State Recidivism Example: There are few criminal specialists. Released inmates were involved in a wide range of law-violating behaviors. See Crime in America-Arrests and Recidivism

Federal Recidivism

Federal Recidivism Example: One-half (50.0%) of these drug trafficking offenders were rearrested for a new crime or for an alleged violation of their supervision over the follow-up period of eight years.

Federal Recidivism Example: This compares to a 49.3 percent rearrest rate for all offenders reported in the Recidivism Overview Report (a previously released study).

Federal and State Drug Recidivism: Over two-thirds (76.9%) of state drug offenders released from state prison were rearrested within five years, compared to 41.9% of federal drug trafficking offenders released from prison over the same five year period.

Why The Difference in Federal and State Recidivism?

We are going to include a variety of factors for your consideration as to the difference between federal and state recidivism rates, and offer our opinions.

Note that the federal system mandates 85 percent of sentence served while state correctional systems have a wide variety of release mechanisms that, generally speaking, create opportunities for earlier release and shorter sentences. For an overview as to who gets prosecuted and sentenced (most felony convictions in the US do not get prison time), see Crime in America-Prosecutions.

All reports on recidivism cite two primary factors as predictors of a return to the criminal justice system; they are criminal history and age upon release. The more complex the criminal history, and the younger the person upon release, the greater the amount of recidivism.

All reports on recidivism are undercounts. The great majority of crime is not reported to law enforcement (47 percent of violent crime is reported) and the great majority of crime (two out of every five reported crimes) is not solved, based in Crime in America.Net articles.

Our Opinion

We believe that the reason for the discrepancy between federal and state recidivism reports is the nature of their respective correctional systems, more serious violent inmates in state systems, the percentage of sentence served, and the resulting age upon release.

The federal system, as stated, requires 85 percent of sentence to be served. Thus for a ten year sentence, federal inmates will serve 8.5 years.

State Inmates: In 2009, the median prison sentence for state prisoner violent offenses (48 months) was twice as long as for nonviolent offenses (24 months).

Federal Drug Traffickers: Of the 94.7 percent of federal drug traffickers who were sentenced to prison, the most frequently imposed sentence length was between 24 and 59 months (36.8%), followed by 60 to 119 months (31.1%). Nearly a fifth (19.0%) received a sentence of 120 months or more, while 3.3 percent received a sentence of less than 12 months.

The previously reported definition for drug trafficking indicates substantial criminal conspiracies and quantity of the drug distributed. The data indicates that federal drug trafficking inmates served 85 percent of much longer sentences.

If we are correct, federal drug trafficking inmates served longer sentences and were older upon release; we are all aware that age at release is correlated to recidivism.

We also suspect that state inmates have more serious and complex criminal histories than federal prisoners. If you look at current data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 46.4 are drug offenders and 15.5 are violent offenders, see BOP-Prisoners by Conviction.

The data presented below was offered in 1994 and 2004 and the federal prison system has gotten more complex with federal prosecutions of state-level violent criminals, but we believe that state correctional systems continue to hold inmates who are more violent with multiple arrests and convictions.

A major difference between state and federal prisons is the level of violence common among inmates. USA Today reported (2004) that state prisons house far more violent criminals than federal prisons USA Today.

Most federal prisoners are drug offenders, but almost half of state prisoners are serving time for violent crimes. Offenders in federal prisons are almost three times as likely as state prisoners to be incarcerated for a drug offense. About 58 percent of federal prisoners are being held for drug law violations–more than 42 percent for drug trafficking and about 15 percent for other types of drug crimes. Among state inmates, approximately 21 percent are confined for drug offenses–about 13 percent for drug trafficking and 8 percent for other drug offenses, see Difference Between State and Federal Inmates.

Final Analysis

Thus in the final analysis, state inmates serve shorter sentences, are younger upon release, and have more violent and complex criminal histories, and these factors primarily explain the difference in the rates in recidivism.

The United States Sentencing Commission Report: Recidivism Among Federal Drug Trafficking Offenders

This report examines a group of 10,888 federal drug trafficking offenders who were released in calendar year 2005. They were originally sentenced between fiscal year 1991 and the first quarter of fiscal year 2006.

Offenders were placed in this group based on the primary sentencing guideline that the court applied when sentencing the offender. One-half (50.0%) of these drug trafficking offenders were rearrested for a new crime or for an alleged violation of their supervision over the follow-up period of eight years.

This compares to a 49.3 percent rearrest rate for all offenders reported in the Recidivism Overview Report. These 10,888 offenders, who were all U.S. citizens, represent 42.8 percent of the 25,431 federal offenders who were released in calendar year 2005 and analyzed in the Recidivism Overview Report.

Among those offenders in this group for whom drug type information was available, crack cocaine was the most common primary drug type, with 2,953 crack cocaine offenders (27.3% of the 10,814 offenders with a known primary drug type). The remaining primary drug types, in order of prevalence, were marijuana (n=2,570, 23.8%), powder cocaine (n=2,350, 21.7%), methamphetamine (n=1,826, 16.9%), and heroin (n=590, 5.5%). An additional 525 (4.9%) offenders had some other type of drug as the primary type of drug in their offense, and were not studied separately for purposes of this report.

Report Highlights

Some highlights of the Commission’s study are that:

Over the eight-year follow-up period, one-half (50.0%) of federal drug trafficking offenders were rearrested. Of those drug trafficking offenders who recidivated, the median time to rearrest was 25 months.

In general, there were few clear distinctions among the five drug types studied. One exception is that crack cocaine offenders recidivated at the highest rate (60.8%) of any drug type. Recidivism rates for other drug types were between 43.8% and 50.0%.

Nearly one-fourth (23.8%) of drug trafficking offenders who recidivated had assault as their most serious new charge followed by drug trafficking and public order offenses.

Federal drug trafficking offenders had a substantially lower recidivism rate compared to a cohort of state drug offenders released into the community in 2005 and tracked by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Over two-thirds (76.9%) of state drug offenders released from state prison were rearrested within five years, compared to 41.9% of federal drug trafficking offenders released from prison over the same five year period.

A federal drug trafficking offender’s criminal history category was closely associated with the likelihood of recidivism (see bar chart). But note that career offenders and armed career criminals recidivated at a rate lower than drug trafficking offenders.

A federal drug trafficking offender’s age at time of release into the community was also closely associated with likelihood of recidivism.

Conclusions

Recidivism Among Federal Drug Trafficking Offenders older age at release of those receiving longer mandatory minimum penalties may be at least one factor explaining the link between drug mandatory minimum penalties and recidivism.

There was little apparent association between the length of imprisonment and recidivism. However, once criminal history category is accounted for, the length of the sentence originally imposed was associated with lower rates of recidivism.

For example, for drug trafficking offenders in the lowest criminal history category, those sentenced to between 12 and 23 months had the highest recidivism rate (44.5%), while those sentenced to 120 months or more had the lowest recidivism rate (30.7%).

The same pattern held for other criminal history categories. Again, longer sentences result in older ages at release, and this, combined with criminal history differences, likely contributes to the apparent lack of overall association between length of imprisonment and recidivism.

The relatively low number of offenders convicted of trafficking some types of drugs, particularly heroin and methamphetamine, makes this analysis more difficult to perform by drug type, but it appears that the general association between sentence length and recidivism, once criminal history is accounted for, was present across all drug types.

In the coming months, the Commission will continue to issue additional reports based on its study of recidivism.

The federal drug trafficking offenders followed in this study recidivated (as measured by rearrest) at a rate of 50.0 percent. This rate is approximately equal to the recidivism rate of 49.3 percent measured among all types of federal offenders over the same period.

It is markedly lower than the recidivism rate of 76.9 percent reported in another study following state drug offenders over a five-year follow-up period.

In general, there were few clear distinctions among the five drug types studied in this report. One exception is that crack cocaine offenders recidivated at the highest rate (60.8%) of any drug type. Recidivism rates for other drug types were between 43.8 percent and 50.0 percent.

As might be expected from prior recidivism studies, the two indicators most strongly associated with recidivism among federal drug traffickers were criminal history and age. Offenders with no criminal history points recidivated at a rate of 35.4 percent, while offenders in the highest Criminal History Category recidivated at a rate of 77.1 percent.

Age at release was also associated with recidivism. Drug trafficking offenders released prior to age 21 had the highest recidivism rate, 65.0 percent, while drug trafficking offenders over 60 years old at the time of their release had the lowest recidivism rate of 16.5 percent.

The strong association of both criminal history and age with recidivism rates adds important caveats to some other findings. For example, drug trafficking offenders with higher base offense levels, which are largely determined by drug quantity and type, had lower recidivism rates than those offenders with lower base offense levels.

However, the longer sentences received by those with higher base offense levels results in older ages at release, and this may be at least one factor explaining the link between base offense levels and recidivism.

Similarly, recidivism was higher among drug trafficking offenders convicted without a mandatory minimum penalty than among those convicted of a drug offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty. Those convicted of a drug offense carrying a shorter mandatory minimum penalty had higher recidivism rates than those convicted of an offense carrying a longer penalty.

Again, the older age at release of those receiving longer mandatory minimum penalties may be at least one factor explaining the link between drug mandatory minimum penalties and recidivism.

There was little apparent association between the length of imprisonment and recidivism. However, once criminal history category is accounted for, the length of the sentence originally imposed was associated with lower rates of recidivism.

For example, for drug trafficking offenders in the lowest criminal history category, those sentenced to between 12 and 23 months had the highest recidivism rate (44.5%), while those sentenced to 120 months or more had the lowest recidivism rate (30.7%).

The same pattern held for other criminal history categories. Again, longer sentences result in older ages at release, and this, combined with criminal history differences, likely contributes to the apparent lack of overall association between length of imprisonment and recidivism.

The relatively low number of offenders convicted of trafficking some types of drugs, particularly heroin and methamphetamine, makes this analysis more difficult to perform by drug type, but it appears that the general association between sentence length and recidivism, once criminal history is accounted for, was present across all drug types. In the coming months, the Commission will continue to issue additional reports based on its study of recidivism.

The United States Sentencing Commission reviewed this article before publication.

Source: http://www.ussc.gov/research/research-publications/recidivism-among-federal-drug-trafficking-offenders

Reprinted with permission from http://crimeinamerica.net.

Contact us at crimeinamerica@gmail.com or for media on deadline, use leonardsipes@gmail.com.

Leonard A. Sipes, Jr has thirty-five years of experience supervising public affairs for national and state criminal justice agencies. He is the Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse and the Former Director of Information Management for the National Crime Prevention Council. He has a Post Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and is the author of the book "Success With the Media". He can be reached via email at leonardsipes@gmail.com.


Comments:

No comments have been posted for this article.


Login to let us know what you think

User Name:   

Password:       


Forgot password?





correctsource logo




Use of this web site constitutes acceptance of The Corrections Connection User Agreement
The Corrections Connection ©. Copyright 1996 - 2017 © . All Rights Reserved | 15 Mill Wharf Plaza Scituate Mass. 02066 (617) 471 4445 Fax: (617) 608 9015