State Leaders Take On Recidivism
By Warren Hansen, CSG Justice Center Public Affairs Manager
Ten states with the greatest potential cost savings could save more than $470 million a year if they reduced recidivism rates by 10 percent, according to the Pew Center on the States.
That was a message in December as Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress, representatives of the U.S. Department of Justice, and teams of policymakers and corrections officials from all 50 states gathered to discuss how the federal government can work in partnership with states to reduce recidivism.
“Federal, state and local governments are working together to promote public safety and reduce recidivism in our communities,” U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said during the Dec. 8 event in Washington, D.C. “Helping offenders return to their communities as productive members of society ultimately improves their lives and saves money for the communities in which they live. Reducing recidivism, through programs like those funded by the Second Chance Act, keeps us all safer.”
The Second Chance Act, signed into law in 2008, was designed to improve outcomes for people returning to communities from prisons and jails. It authorizes federal grants to government agencies and nonprofit organizations to provide employment assistance, substance abuse treatment, housing, family programming, mentoring, victim’s support and other services that can help reduce recidivism.
Key policymakers discussed the importance of adopting evidence-based strategies and the substantial fiscal impact that reducing recidivism can have on state corrections budgets.
Although recidivism rates seem stubbornly flat nationally—with more than four in 10 offenders returning to prison within three years of release—many states have made dramatic reductions. The forum was designed to help participants learn about strategies that are working in states that have reduced these rates of recidivism.
“What’s so important about the research being brought to our attention is that we can really change the behaviors of people who are incarcerated and on community supervision,” said Kansas Rep. Pat Colloton, who chairs the Board of Directors for The Council of State Governments Justice Center. “But we should be cautious about who we focus on, because that research also demonstrates that prioritizing low-risk offenders can have the unintended consequence of increasing recidivism.”
As a result of the forum, all 50 teams of state policymakers—which included the heads of the department of corrections, legislative leaders, judges and governor’s staff—began working to set measurable goals for reducing recidivism, design plans to achieve these goals by drawing on the strongest research and experiences from the field, and identify benchmarks state and federal policymakers can use to track progress.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio underscored the importance of the forum.
“This forum presents an opportunity to further advance this country’s progress in reducing recidivism, and I applaud those states that are now coming forward to set clear, measurable targets for reducing recidivism and tracking progress toward those goals ,” he said. “These are the ambitious steps necessary to showcase the importance of re-entry and recidivism to taxpayers, our community and our families.”
Denise O’Donnell, director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, said her office will provide technical assistance to all state teams. In addition, select states can receive intensive, targeted assistance.
O’Donnell said the bureau will release solicitations to the field for sites interested in applying for demonstration grants authorized under the Second Chance Act. Some of these solicitations will be similar to opportunities the bureau made available in 2011. New for 2012, however, will be a call for proposals from states interested in receiving funding to achieve the statewide recidivism reduction goals similar to those promoted at the forum. The bureau anticipates issuing these solicitations in March or April; states then will likely have from four to eight weeks to submit applications and a statewide recidivism reduction plan.
The event was sponsored by The Council of State Governments Justice Center, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice, the Association of State Correctional Administrators, the Public Welfare Foundation and the Pew Center on the States.