Prison System in America

G. Public Safety and Reentry

Over two thirds of released prisoners are arrested for a new crime within 3 years of release—many within the first year. Released prisoners make a substantial contribution to new crimes. Most returning prisoners have extensive criminal histories. Most returning prisoners (80%–90%) had at least one prior conviction, and at least two thirds have previously served time in prison. In Massachusetts, 99% of those released in 2002 had been previously incarcerated in a state or county facility. About 80% of those released from the Philadelphia prison system had been previously incarcerated there.

Many released prisoners are reconvicted or rearrested for new crimes—many within the first year of release. About one third are reconvicted or reincarcerated within 1 year. In Maryland, about one third had been rearrested for at least one new crime within 6 months of release, 10% had been reconvicted, and 16% had been returned to prison/jail for a new crime conviction or parole/probation violation. Releasees with substance use histories and who use substances after release are at high risk to recidivate.

H. Community Supervision and Reentry

The vast majority of released prisoners (over 80%) are subject to a period of community supervision. There are now over 800,000 parolees in the United States, up from about 200,000 in 1980. And there are many more offenders under probation or some other community-based sanction— of the 8 million under correctional supervision, about 70% are in the community. Resources have not kept up with the increase. Most probation and parole officers average 70 or more cases—about twice the recommended number. Persons on community supervision account for nearly 40% of new prison admissions nationally. Parole and probation violations have increased significantly over the past 25 years, and the number of persons returning to prison for a violation increased 1,000% between 1980 and 2000. About 40% of prisoners in state prison/jail are serving time for a probation and parole violation. Probation and parole officers appear to have little effect on rearrest rates of released prisoners. Findings show that prisoners who are released under supervision fare no better than those without supervision— their rearrest and reconviction rates are not significantly different.

What does all this tell us? Prisoner reentry is fraught with problems, the numbers are increasing rapidly, and not enough resources are being put into the process—particularly given the increase in the number of returning prisoners. This is a growing and difficult problem that has no easy solution and that requires significant investment in time and energy to address.

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