By Ali Jackson
Background – Past Policy and the Current State of Recidivism
As of 2011, Wisconsin had an average of 31.3% of ex-convicts reoffending and being sentenced a second or third time. Still, the state spending on corrections has increased significantly. On February 28th, 200219 Governor Tony Evers and the State of Wisconsin Department of Administration (WI DOA) released its 2019-2021 Executive Budget that outlined the budget of the DOC specifically. Within this report, it outlined the goals and actual numbers from 2017-2018 and the goals for 2019, 2020, and 2021. The top goal listed is “Reduce Recidivism” and the top Governor’s Budget Recommendation is “Opening Avenues to Reentry Success Expansion.” The budget allocated for “Opening Avenues to Reentry Success Expansion” is $3,926,500 for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) and $3,901,600 for FY21, sourced from General Purpose Revenue (GPR) for “support[ing] statewide expansions of the Opening Avenues to Reentry Success program” (WI DOA 2019) This program, Opening Avenues to Reentry Success (OARS), supports the reentry of “inmates living with a serious and persistent mental illness who are medium-to-high-risk of reoffending”. Their goal is to provide ex-prisoners with the stability and skills needed to integrate successfully into the community. The OARS team focuses on the individual and what they specifically need. OARS accomplishes this by “connecting the participant with locally-based supports for health care, housing, education, employment, and transportation. Each participant’s support is different depending on their individual needs” (La Vigne, et al. 2008). It is vital that the state provide these resources for facilitating the reentry process and reducing the likelihood of recidivism.
Problem – What Factors Correlate with Increased Likelihood of Reoffense
Nationally, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, after examining recidivism rates in a 9-year long follow up study, “An estimated 68% of released prisoners were arrested within 3 years, 79% within 6 years, and 83% within 9 years” (Alper, et al. 2018). According to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (WI DOC), Recidivism is defined as a criminal offense committed following incarceration that results in the offender being convicted of a new offense and a sentence to either Custody or supervision to the Department of Corrections (Tatar & Jones 2016). Recidivism rates released by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections are defined by dividing the number of persons in a defined population who have recidivated by the total number of persons in that population.
In order to see best how time after release from prison affects recidivism rates, the WI DOC measured rates in follow up increments of one, two, and three years after the individual was released from prison. There are eight main factors that influence recidivism rates within a population: gender, age of release, race, time to recidivism event, length of prison stay, risk level, original offense type, and offense type specialization (Tatar & Jones 2016). For example, in terms of
gender, male offenders have a higher chance of reoffending. For a female inmate released between 2000 and 2011 in a 3-year follow up, the recidivism rate was 26.1% whereas for a male inmate it was 35.3%. Another example of one of the eight main factors influencing likelihood of reoffense is in regards to age, in a 3-year follow up study, an inmate released between 20-24 years of age was nearly twice as likely to reoffend than an inmate released between 50-54 years of age.
According to the Wisconsin Department of corrections, offenders released in 2009 have a recidivism rate of 30.8% which is the lowest rate in 20 years as compared to a high of 45.4% in 1993. However, despite the significant decline in recidivism rates in recent decades, a person still has on average a one in three chance of returning back into the system – this rate is still too high. This is in part due to a lack of reentry resources: oftentimes prisoners will describe their experience of being released from prison as being left at steps of a church with enough money to buy a bus ticket. This common experience highlights the difficulties ex-convicts experience immediately after release, which only worsen over time. A specific example of the immense lack of resources that the formerly incarcerated have for trying to reduce criminal activity outside of prison is that convicts can’t collect Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) while in prison and they are not automatically eligible after release either. Ex-convicts are being released from prison with no money to support them, which is just one way resources for ex-prisoners lack support upon their reentry (Inmate Aid 2010). In order to best set up the formerly incarcerated for life outside of prison, a reentry program needs to provide the following: transportation, clothing, food, amenities, financial resources, documentation, employment assistance, education, health care, and support systems.
Recommendations – What the WI DOC should do immediately
When incarcerated, inmates have nearly all autonomy stripped from them. To go from an extremely rigid, regimented environment to the outside world is extremely difficult for ex-convicts to adapt to. By providing ex-convicts with resources such as health care, housing, education, employment, and transportation, it becomes much easier for inmates to reintegrate successfully back into society. The increased pressure and strain pushes offenders to reoffend with certain crimes with a high likelihood of arrest due to their lack of resources and struggle for survival. In order for this program to be successful, the WI DOC program must establish easy and automatic-enrollment for ex-prisoners following release with an optional opt-out option. Additionally, WI DOC should fund pre-existing reentry programs that have successful and established reentry programs.
More specifically, in order to work most effectively the WI DOC should evaluate offenders based on the eight main factors previously listed: gender, age of release, race, time to recidivism event, length of prison stay, risk level, original offense type, and offense type specialization. By using these factors to calculate the likelihood of reoffense, the WI DOC can focus their resources on the most promising inmates. It’s important for the WI DOC to learn how to rehabilitate offenders through those who are most likely to adapt from intervention. Additionally, to address the loss of autonomy affecting inmates there should be adaptations within prisons allowing prisoners to have more say in what is happening with their lives. American prison is an extremely structured environment, however, it doesn’t have to stay that way and it doesn’t show that rigidity is beneficial. Increasing autonomy – for example, allowing inmates to choose classes or programs that they want to attend during certain hours – could be largely beneficial, because such a system comes closer to simulating the real world that inmates are being released into. Lastly, I recommend increasing funding for both public and private rehabilitations programs. More specifically, these programs should prioritize finding housing and job assistance. These job assistance programs will aid in building skills for the workplace, assist with building resumes, interview training, and the job search process. Ideally, this program will partner with various companies that are willing to hire employees with a record and are actively waiting to hire ex-inmates recently released from prison. These programs would be funded by the state government, as it is in their best interest to address recidivism now to reduce spending on incarceration in the future.
Alper, Mariel, Durose, Matthew R., Markman, Joshua, 2018 Update on Prisoner Recidivism: A 9-Year Follow-up Period (2005-2014) (pdf, 31 pages), Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, May 2018, NCJ 250975.
Craig, Leam, Louise Dixon, and Theresa A. Gannon. What Works in Offender Rehabilitation: an Evidence-Based Approach to Assessment and Treatment. Hoboken: Wiley, 2013.
Inmate Aid. “What Prisoners and Inmates Need to Know from Social Security Administration – Answers.” Inmate Aid: 2020. Accessed March 4, 2020. https://www.inmateaid.com/information/what-prisoners-and-inmates-need-to-know-from-social-security-administration-answers.
La Vigne, Nancy, Elizabeth Davies, Tobi Palmer, and Robin Halberstadt. “Release Planning for Successful Reentry: A Guide for Corrections, Service Providers, and Community Groups.” Urban Institute: 2008.
Maruna, Shadd, and Russ Immarigeon. After Crime and Punishment Pathways to Offender Reintegration. Uffculme: Taylor and Francis, 2013.
Tatar II, Joseph R., and Megan Jones. “Recidivism after Release from Prison, Recidivism after Release from Prison.” Wisconsin Department of Corrections: 2016.
Wisconsin Department of Administration. Executive Budget 2019-2020. WI DOA: 2019. https://doa.wi.gov/Pages/StateFinances/2019-21-Executive-Budget.aspx.