If there were proven ways to reduce the number of people who end up back in jail, would most people agree to implement these changes? If it costs less to actively reduce recidivism than it does to put people back behind bars, would society embrace programs that did just this?
The Bureau of Justice Statistics states in their 2014 report that 67.8% of those who are released from prison are arrested for a different crime within three years of their release. The younger the offender, the more likely that person is to reoffend after release.
The dictionary definition of recidivism is the “tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend.” It is a relapse into poor choices and bad behavior. There are many reasons for this. One reason people reoffend is that they have no other options. They may, for example, leave prison with no money so they turn to theft in order to get their basic needs met. Or they leave prison still addicted to drugs or without any coping strategies or support to stay clean, so when they are released they go out and use again.
If, while in prison, people are not given the skills and means to survive in society without committing a crime, they will not be able to successfully re-enter society. So it makes sense to provide the skills and means that people need while they are incarcerated in order to better ensure that these people have the skills and support they need to make better choices and to cope to stress more effectively and healthily.
What Reduces Recidivism
There are currently many national programs that work to help inmates improve their mental health, education and skills. Here are five things that are proven to reduce recidivism:
- Providing adequate mental health assessment and treatment. Many people commit crimes while under the influence of drugs. Drug use is often a direct result of that person attempting to self-medicate. However, once the underlying mental health condition is identified and treated, self-medication is no longer needed. The Bureau of Justice reported in 2005 that more than half of those in jail and prison had mental health issues.
- Getting inmates the substance abuse treatment they need. The Residential Drug Abuse Program is specifically named by the Federal Bureau of Prisons as one of its most effective programs.
- Ensuring that the family is connected during an incarceration. Those who have strong family ties are less likely to reoffend. Helping inmates connect with their children is an effective deterrent to recidivism because the parent then has a reason to stay out of jail or prison.
- Helping the inmate acquire an education and a marketable skill. Once inmates have a skill that they can use “on the outside,” it is far more likely that they will find employment. Employment is a big factor in stabilization. UNICOR is one of these programs. Research shows that every dollar spent on educating inmates saves the community between four and five dollars on the cost of reincarceration.
- Giving inmates the continued support they need after release to succeed. One of these programs includes a handbook called the Re-Entry Handbook. This resource offers former inmates the practical guidance and service connections they need to become contributing members of society.
Understanding why people commit crimes, then taking the steps necessary to help these people free themselves of addiction, manage their mental health and maintain supportive, healthy relationships benefits not only the individual and their families, but also the communities where these people work and live. In short, helping people who need a second chance benefits us all.