Recidivism: Prison and Correctional Education

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24 June 2005
Reducing the Prison Recidivism Rate
For Violent Criminals
Recidivism can be viewed as a public safety failure rate; new crime by convicted felony inmates and probationers and is measured by rates of re-arrest for a new misdemeanor or felony offense, reconviction on new charges, and re-incarceration or sentence to another court imposed sanction such as probation, a diversionary program, or a fine. Each measure has strengths and weaknesses, but combined, the three are a more comprehensive and accurate means to measure the rate of recidivism. At least 70% of inmates and 58% of probationers are re-arrested within three years of being released. Males have a high rate of recidivism and young minority offenders are rearrested more often. Most new crime is normally nonviolent, less serious felonies and misdemeanors with violent offenders being the least likely to recommit another violent crime. The Department of Correctional Education offers academic, vocational and transition programs to those persons who enter the Department of Corrections. Academic programs include instruction in literacy (Literacy Incentive Program), which is mandated by state law for those inmates who score below a predetermined level on standardized testing, Adult Basic Education courses, and GED preparatory instruction. The vocational program includes instruction in 36 trade areas and coordinates an apprenticeship program in various areas. The transition program in the adult system is a relatively new endeavor of the department having been initiated at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women in 1992 and provides instruction in employability skills, career assessment, budgeting and financial management, and life planning. Most inmates are re-arrested at least once after being released from prison. This does not mean that they committed new crimes, only that they either were suspected of having committed a new crime or violated some rule of their parole. When a crime is committed in the vicinity of a known offender, especially one that fits his or her description, he/she becomes a logical suspect. Once an offender has paid his or her debt to society, police should not automatically assume that an "innocent" person is guilty of a crime. Most people who fail parole fail not because they committed new crimes but because of technical violations. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (1999) reports that of all adults who left parole in 1998, 45% successfully completed their terms, and 42% were returned to incarceration. Only 13% were returned to prison with new sentences. This means most did not actually commit another crime. Irwin and Austin (1997: 116, 123) attribute parole failures to increased supervision capacities of parole officers and to an increased focus on the law enforcement function of parole as opposed to its social service function. Studies have been conducted in several states and research indicates that prison college programs are among the best tools for reducing recidivism. Individuals who take college courses while in prison improve their chances of attaining and keeping employment after release and are less likely to commit additional crimes that lead to their return to prison. The effectiveness of these programs led to widespread adoption for several years. In 1965, only 12 post-secondary correctional education programs were operating in the United States. By 1982 there were 350 programs with approximately 27,000 inmates, representing almost 9% of the total prison population at the time, receiving some form of post-secondary education (Wolford & Littlefield, 1985). The rapid increase in these programs began in 1965 when Congress passed Title IV of the Higher Education Act. This Act permitted inmates to apply for Pell grants to be used for college courses. Even though higher education through Pell grants reduced an individual's chances of returning to crime, finding better jobs and holding them for longer...
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