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Blind Advocacy of Offender Rehabilitation Programs Hurts All
By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Published: 10/29/2018


“Experts” backed by enormous data sets can say anything they want but even they can be wrong.

Facebook stated that video was the way people wanted to consume news. Newsrooms throughout the world rushed to change the way they delivered their content only to discover that Facebook, with their endless data, was wrong. People still wanted to read, not watch, Wall Street Journal.

Former Deputy General Sally Yates

There is a parallel between Facebook’s push towards video and offender rehabilitation. From The Crime Report: “The “bizarre” White House meeting between Kanye West and President Trump, supposedly to discuss criminal justice reform, masks the fact that the Trump administration has “reverted to the failed ‘lock them up and throw away the key’ practices of the past,” former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates writes in the Washington Post.

“Research shows that inmates who participate in meaningful correctional education programs are 43 percent less likely to return to prison.”

Why bring up Ms. Yates? She quotes data that “inmates who participate in correctional education programs are 43 percent less likely to return to prison,” which is a statistical quirk that most interpret as a 43 percent reduction in recidivism. The program resulted in a 13 percent reduction in reoffending which dovetails with the observation that most rehabilitation programs either have no effect, make things worse, or reduce recidivism by small amounts, generally speaking, about ten percent.

She criticizes President Trump for a failed crime policy using incomplete and fallacious observations. “Smart on crime” becomes disingenuous. She ignores the best available data.

Impact of Programs

What this means is that the overwhelming number of offenders who experience programs fail, Crime in America.

Follow-up data on educational or employment programs indicate that they have little to no effect on recidivism, Crime in America.

If we blindly advocate for programs without understanding the massive rate of recidivism, and the fact that programs may be causing more harm than good, we do damage to the offender population, their families, and the effort to meaningfully change the criminal justice system.

New Study-90 Percent Recidivism

Another study from the National Institute of Justice examines the life circumstances and criminal behavior of 479 men and women in South Carolina who were enrolled in a multi-site reentry program before prison release. They were part of the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI). The emphasis of the study was not the impact of the program (which was dismal) but rather an evaluation as to why some participants did not return to crime.

The study found that recidivism, measured as at least one new arrest, occurred for 90 percent of the sample. On average, individuals had about seven arrests, with an average of 11 charges since their release from prison.

Common reasons stated for not committing crimes included the deterrent effect of incarceration, consideration for children and family, changes in the way they perceive crime, a change in lifestyle, employment, religion, and sobriety.

Circumstances more likely to encourage criminal behavior were financial or employment issues, drug and alcohol use, stressful events, and antisocial peers. Criminal history indicators were the strongest predictors of recidivism, along with educational level, with those less educated at higher risk of recidivism, National Institute of Justice.

Previous Study-Five Out of Six Arrested

Virtually all offenders are rearrested after release from prison. This observation is backed up by a study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics observing offender behavior over nine years.

Five out of six state prisoners were arrested at least once during the nine years after their release. This is the first BJS study that uses a 9-year follow-up period to examine the recidivism patterns of released prisoners. The longer follow-up period shows a much fuller picture of offending patterns and criminal activity of released prisoners than is shown by prior studies that used a 3-or 5-year follow-up period.

Overall, 68% of released state prisoners were arrested within three years, 79% within six years, and 83% within nine years. The 401,288 released state prisoners were arrested an estimated 2 million times during the nine years after their release, an average of five arrests per released prisoner, Crime in America.

How Many Go To Prison?

According to federal data, only 42 percent of felony convictions result in a sentence to prison, and most felony offenders had extensive arrest and conviction histories, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Should We End Programs?

Heavens no. The grand tradition of “corrections” is to correct. Offer programs on humanitarian grounds, just don’t mislead the public that a GED and a plumbing certificate will make the world a safer place. Programs make prisons saner, more manageable places. If you have ever spent time in a correctional facility, that’s a very important issue.

But concurrently, we need to acknowledge that programs for offenders are woefully underfunded. Governors are insisting that correctional budgets be reduced and if effective, treatment programs would offer both enhanced public safety and a reduced monetary impact. But funding is inadequate because most believe that they are ineffective.

As long as we are are going to unquestionably advocate for programs while not being concerned about the results, we will continue to have dismal outcomes.

Most advocates don’t care (too strong?) if the released offender commits additional crimes; they believe that it’s the RIGHT thing to do. They will suggest that recidivism is just one of the many things we should be measuring.

So if your daughter is sexually assaulted or your brother robbed and psychologically scarred for life or if your neighbor gets burglarized and moves; it’s all OK because the offender is employed or using fewer drugs or he is now a good father?

If we are going to go down this path, we need to have a national conference and a series of extremely rigorous studies as to why the results to date have been so disappointing. We need a full understanding of offender behavior, motivations and what it will take to get him not to be a burden to society.

We need to focus on mental health and clinical issues that characterize the bulk of the correctional population. If we were truly brave we would also focus on why so many are coming into the correctional population with mental health and child abuse issues, Crime in America.

We need a research initiative similar to cancer. It should be a national priority.

What we don’t need is blind advocacy. If you are going to criticize the President, at least be honest with your data.

Source:The Crime Report

Reprinted with permission from http://www.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.


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