Recidivism, What is Jail for Anyway?








By Jesse B. Valbrun


The United States has the unfortunate distinction of having the greatest rate of incarceration on the planet. Despite having one of the highest standards of living, many social and economic contributors coupled with the mental state of many american’s has facilitated a scary culture of violence and corruption. Some may choose to rob a corner store in a desperate attempt to get on his or her feet, or turn to selling narcotics to turn out a profit. Others fall victim to a judicial system that identifies drug abusers as criminal, rather than victims of addiction, and are forced to serve time with murderers and rapist. Ultimately, many people make decisions that unfortunately land them in American jails and prisons.

Many of these individuals who made a poor decision become saturated in criminal culture, and come home more mentally unstable then they did when they first got incarcerated. Consequently, these individuals often relapse back into indulging in criminal behavior. The tendency for a convicted criminal to reoffend is called recidivism.

Recidivism is a term used to describe violations that result in the arrest, felony conviction, recommitment to a correctional facility for a new crime, recommitment for a technical parole violation and/or issuance of an warrant for arrest for a convicted felon. Unfortunately a large percentage of individuals fall into criminal activity and end up serving time for their action end up returning back to prison shortly after their release.

According to a study issued by the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics, concerning over 404,000 recently released prisoners in 30 states, over 67 percent of them were rearrested within 3 years of their release. Even worse, 76.6 percent would find themselves rearrested within 5 years of their release. Of those prisoners, over half were arrested by the end of the first year of their release, implicating our correctional facilities regarding their inability to rehabilitate prisoners (Durose, M., Cooper, Alexia D, Snyder, Howard N., & United States. Bureau of Justice Statistics, issuing body. (2014)).

The rising number of convicts being released from our correctional facilities has prompted research among the likes of researchers, policy makers and practitioners concerned with the reintegration of former prisoners back into society. This research is concerned with causes of recidivism, ways in which to reduce recidivism and what communities are most affected by the release of our prisoners. There are a number of literary reviews concerned with the issues associated with recidivism that illustrate the conclusions of such research.

Environmental Causes

Much of the risk of recidivism of released prisoners back into society is the community in which they enter. One peer review that investigates this variable is “Final technical report : Neighborhoods, recidivism, and employment among returning prisoners”, a study conducted by the Institute of Social Research via the University of Michigan. This particular study analyses the ways in which the neighborhood that a particular parolee, or released prisoner  affects his or her ability to secure stable employment consequently reducing the risk of returning to prison.

By analyzing correction, police and unemployment insurance records in Michigan during 2003, the study was able to come to conclusions concerned with the causes of recidivism by conducting a longitudinal study based on a test group of  11,604 parolees. The results of the report indicated the notion that returning to a more disadvantaged neighborhood increased the risk of  returning to prison for a technical violation, a higher risk of being arrested, and more difficulty securing adequate employment (Morenoff, J., & Harding, David J. (2011).

In contrast, according to the study returning to a more affluent community is associated with a reduced risk of being arrested, absconding, and returning to prison on a technical violation. Additionally, a return to an affluent community was also associated with less difficulties in regards to securing employment and greater wages (Morenoff, J., & Harding, David J. (2011).

In short, the socioeconomic composition of the community a parolee returns to is a great indicator in whether or not they will return to a life a crime. From a policy perspective, these findings suggest that parole outcomes could be improved by properly evaluating placement of institutional housing in more advantaged communities (Morenoff, J., & Harding, David J. (2011).

Transitional Job Programs

Another variable to be considered when assessing the issue of recidivism is the availability of transitional job programs provided for recently released prisoners. A study published in the IZA Journal of Labor Policy, “Transitional jobs after release from prison: Effects on employment and recidivism”, functioned to analyze the effects of such programs on the job employment and recidivism rate of released prisoners by evaluating the effects of two transitional jobs programs: the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) and the Transitional Jobs Reentry Demonstration (TJRD) (Valentine, E., & Redcross, J. (2015).

The analysis assesses the effects of these programs on employment and recidivism. We find that the programs in both studies led to a large increase in employment driven by the transitional jobs themselves. However, the programs did not increase employment in non-program jobs. In addition, the CEO transitional jobs program reduced recidivism, but the TJRD programs did not. These results have implications for policy and research (Valentine, E., & Redcross, J. (2015).

Both evaluations employed an experimental design were ex prisoners were randomly assigned to different programs. One group was offered access to transitional programs while the other control group was offered basic job search assistance programs. The study included over 900 subjects in four midwestern cities; Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee and Minneapolis, observing each subject from 2004 to 2012. The findings in the study suggest that transitional programs lead to increases in employment and reductions in recidivism for those involved in the CEO program, however the TJRD program yielded no difference in relation to recidivism (Valentine, E., & Redcross, J. (2015).

Health Related Factors

Another factor that can contribute to the recidivism of an ex-prisoner are related to that individual’s health. It has been documented that numerous poor health decisions can contribute to repeat offenses and re-incarceration. This study aimed to identify important health-related predictors of re-incarceration and to quantify their contribution to predicting re-incarceration (Thomas, E., Spittal, G., Taxman, M., & Kinner, J. (2015)

These concerns were investigated by Emma G Thomas, Matthew J Spittal, Faye S Taxman and Stuart A Kinner in a study titled, “Health-related factors predict return to custody in a large cohort of ex-prisoners: New approaches to predicting re-incarceration”.

The study investigated a number of health related characteristics including mental health, physical health and substance abuse and its effects on the issue of recidivism. The results of the study suggested that those who reported risky use of cannabis, amphetamines, opioids prior to their incarceration or who committed drug related crimes has a greater risk of being reincarcerated (Thomas, E., Spittal, G., Taxman, M., & Kinner, J. (2015).

Additionally, the consumption of certain medications, a proxy diagnosed mental disorder were also factors which proved to contribute to the recidivism rates of the studies test subjects. The findings of this particular study suggest the association between substance abuse, mental health and recidivism. Ultimately, the study implicates drug abuse as a major predictor in assessing reincarceration (Thomas, E., Spittal, G., Taxman, M., & Kinner, J. (2015).

revolving-door    Treatment

The deinstitutionalization of ex offenders is a pressing issue and taking preventative health measures for those who may suffer from drug abuse or mental health has proven to be a major predictor relative to recidivism. Not only do these issues affect individuals who have been recently released from prison, they also affect the communities that they are returning to by relapsing back into their criminal behaviors.Consequently, in order to combat these forces, it is important that the state provide ex-offenders with treatment services concerned with issues such as such as mental/behavioral health, alcohol/substance abuse, and primary health care.

According to a longitudinal study titled “The impact of prison deinstitutionalization on community treatment services.”,  providing such treatment services to ex-offenders has the potential to reduce the rate of recidivism. The study, which employed longitudinal data from various national data programs for all 50 states, concluded that a decrease in the United States prison population would not come without a corresponding increase in access to community mental health and substance abuse services, as a relapse back into drug use or declining mental health increase an ex offenders risk of being recommitted Frazier, B., Sung, D., Gideon, H., & Alfaro, L. (2015).

Effective Treatment

One of the more effective kinds of treatment to combat drug addiction is the employment of personalized feedback intervention (PFIs). There are a number of previous studies that illustrate the positive effects of such intervention on alcohol abuse, however, these type of programs effect on the treatment on those victimized by illegal drugs have not been extensively explored. A study conducted by  Kenji Yokotani and Katsuhiro Tamura in 2015, “Effects of Personalized Feedback Interventions on Drug-Related Reoffending: A Pilot Study” explored the potential effects of personalized feedback intervention programs on illegal drugs (Yokotani, Kenji, & Tamura, Katsuhiro. (2015).

The study, which employed the use of 50 repetitive drug related offenders randomly assigned to PFIs. 20 individuals received 3 month of personalized intervention while the control group underwent no intervention at all. After a 4 year follow up, it was concluded that individuals in the PFIs group fared better than those who received no intervention in regards to recidivism and relapse, suggesting that such programs are necessary in combatting retention rates of ex prisoners (Yokotani, Kenji, & Tamura, Katsuhiro. (2015).


Many believe that our justice system should make a systemic shift from our prisons working to punish criminals to our correctional facilities making a greater effort to rehabilitate them. One step that can be taken in an effort to reform criminals is to provide prisoners with the opportunity to receive an education and job training while incarcerated. Providing criminals with the opportunity to receive an education or job training would facilitate their ability to indoctrinate themselves back into society and earn a living.


The Statistics

There are currently about 9 million individuals serving in prison. Children and juveniles actually make up a surprising percentage of the global prison population, as global statistics estimate that at least a million children, mostly boys, are currently serving time in detention centers that also facilitate the development of one’s criminal identity. Out of these 9 million individuals serving time, 2.2 million of them are currently being held in jails, detention centers and prisons within the United States, a number that has dramatically increased by 500% over the past thirty years (“Prisoners’ Right to Education”).

Even more depressing, a study by Caroline Wolf Harlow concluded that around 41% of state and federal prison inmates did not even finish high school. Unfortunately, for many of these individuals the highest level of education completed was the passing of the GED test, as 25% of state prison inmates and 20% of Federal inmates had gotten their GEDs (“Why Should We Care About Education in Prison?”).

The Consequences

The overwhelming prison population in the United States have resulted in state governments concerning themselves with the burden of generating the necessary funds to sustain their detention facilities. As a result, many of the programs employed to rehabilitate criminals, including educational and artistic programs have been cut or reduced. Consequently, many criminals, including young juveniles are not even offered an adequate program to educate themselves.

Unfortunately juveniles, who aren’t even emotionally or physically fully development, receive deficient education and upon release over 66% do not return to school (“Prisoners’ Right to Education”). A lack of education ultimately leads to a lack of legitimate opportunity consequently increasing the chances that a juvenile or adult criminal returns to practicing criminal activity and ultimately landing them back in jail.

There are a number of studies that illustrate the effects of education on reintegrating ex prisoners back into society. One study compared correctional education participants to non-participants in Maryland, Minnesota, and Ohio in an effort to assess the impact of correctional education on the recidivism rates and post release employment of ex offenders. The study employed the use of two study groups, offenders who participated in correctional education, and offenders who did not. By collecting data from inmate self-report pre-release surveys, institutional/educational records, parole officer surveys, criminal history data, and employment and wage data, it was found that those who participated in correctional education in Minnesota and Ohio yielded significantly lower rates of recidivism, while Maryland also yielded lower results but not as significant. Additionally, participants earned higher wages than those who did not receive correctional education. This study suggest that increasing funding for education in an effort to ease the difficulties of ex offenders reentering society (Steurer, S., Smith, Linda G, Correctional Education Association, & Management & Training Corporation. (2003)).

Ultimately, providing the prison population with educational opportunities that will facilitate their ability to find work and reduce the risk of reincarceration. According to a study of Missouri prisoners, the re-incarceration rates were cut nearly in half for inmates who found full-time jobs in comparison with inmates who failed to find employment. The same study also suggest that inmates dramatically increase their chances of finding a good job by participating in and completing an educational program in prison. Furthermore a 2005 study concluded that on average retention rates for prison inmates were reduced by 46% in comparison to those who choose not to take advantage of educational programs offered at their particular facility (Skorton, D. (2013). College Behind Bars: How Educating Prisoners Pays Off.).


Ultimately, the recidivism rate of newly released prisoners has a number of causes that facilitate the chances of an individual returning to prison. The socioeconomic makeup of the community and individual is returning to, access to education and job training while incarcerated and access to healthcare treatment are all significant indicators that greatly increase the chances that an ex offender successfully integrate themselves back into society. Thus, it is important that policy makers provide correctional facilities with the resources to fund educational programs and intervention programs, so that ex offenders do not reenter their communities and negatively affect them by relapsing back to a life of crime.



Morenoff, J., & Harding, David J. (2011). Final technical report : Neighborhoods, recidivism, and employment among returning prisoners. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan.

Valentine, E., & Redcross, J. (2015). Transitional jobs after release from prison: Effects on employment and recidivism. IZA Journal of Labor Policy, 4(1), 1-17.

Thomas, E., Spittal, G., Taxman, M., & Kinner, J. (2015). Health-related factors predict return to custody in a large cohort of ex-prisoners: New approaches to predicting re-incarceration. Health & Justice, 3(1), 1-13.

Frazier, B., Sung, D., Gideon, H., & Alfaro, L. (2015). The impact of prison deinstitutionalization on community treatment services. Health & Justice, 3(1), 1-12.

Yokotani, Kenji, & Tamura, Katsuhiro. (2015). Effects of Personalized Feedback Interventions on Drug-Related Reoffending: A Pilot Study. Prevention Science, 16(8), 1169.

Durose, M., Cooper, Alexia D, Snyder, Howard N., & United States. Bureau of Justice Statistics, issuing body. (2014). Recidivism of prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 : Patterns from 2005 to 2010 (Special report (United States. Bureau of Justice Statistics)).

Steurer, S., Smith, Linda G, Correctional Education Association, & Management & Training Corporation. (2003). Education reduces crime : Three-state recidivism study : Executive summary. Lanham, MD : Centerville, UT: Correctional Education Association ; Management & Training.

“Prisoners’ Right to Education.” Prisoners’ Right to Education. 28 July 2009. Web. 5 Apr. 2015.

Skorton, D. (2013). College Behind Bars: How Educating Prisoners Pays Off. Retrieved November 8, 2015. Forbes Magazine.

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