Staggering Recidivism Rates

CDCR releases annual Recidivism Rate Reports that beg a fundamental question: What exactly are our prisons rehabilitating? The last available report finds that the tendency for CA inmates to return to prison within three years currently sits at 61%.


Recidivism rates have been decreasing since the early 2000’s. So instead of 7 out of 10 inmates returning to prison walls within three years, the contemporary rate is only 6 out of 10 in CA.


Ethnic breakdowns of CA recidivism rates illuminates how deeply connected the back end of the prison system is connected to the front end. Across all groups, the likelihood of returning to prison increases over time from Year 1 to Year 3.


Re-releasers are more likely to recidivate than first releasers. This is where the metaphor of the revolving door of prison admissions comes into play. Once the criminal justice system has its tentacles draped over an individual they are likely to feel its wrath for the rest of their lives.


Young people are more likely to recidivate. This is line with common literature that finds as individuals get older they tend to desist out of criminality. This trend tracks hormone levels like that of testosterone, or the body’s declining ability to absorb dopamine over time. Brains under the age of 25 are still forming and thus are more vulnerable to peer pressure or impulsivity. This trend is especially tragic as one reflects on the simple fact that the young years of one’s life set the foundation for a successful (or fractured) future.


Property crimes & crimes against persons are the most common type of offenses that recidivists commit. This is line with what we know about the proliferation of these charges fueling prison admissions in the first place. It’s beyond time to shatter the false narrative that the majority of CA inmates are incarcerated for non-violent offenses like smoking pot. It’s uncomfortable to reckon with the reality that violent crimes are prevalent in our neighborhoods, but the longer we bury this truth the further we get from approaching meaningful reform.


Here’s a radical thought: Perhaps if there weren’t 44,000 legal discriminatory barriers to re-entry recidivism rates wouldn’t be so high? Common sense would indicate we should be making it easier for our citizens to take advantage of their second chances in life, not erecting roadblocks at every turn that funnel them back into prisons. Prisons are monster factories that make bad people worse. It doesn’t take much thought to realize our prisons are offering society a very, very poor return on its massive investment. Tough on crime doesn’t have to mean abandoning smart on crime initiatives.


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