Department of Justice Finds Higher Recidivism Rates for State-Released Inmates

Department of Justice Finds Higher Recidivism Rates for State-Released Inmates

The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has taken a new look at recidivism rates for inmates released from state correctional institutions; the new study found recidivism rates over longer periods of time are higher than previously thought.

Its new analysis, “2018 Update on Prisoner Recidivism: A 9-Year Follow-up Period (2005-2014),” essentially updates earlier BJS estimates of the recidivism rates of prisoners released from state prisons. An earlier study tracked a sample group of over 67,000 inmates from 30 states released in 2005 (out of a total of 401,288), finding 68% were re-arrested within three years.

The updated study continues monitoring arrest records of the sample, finding that after six years, 79% of the sample group had been re-arrested, including nearly half (47%) of those not arrested during the first three years after being released. The first three years after release figure the heaviest in recidivism, accounting for 82% of total new crimes during the first nine post-release years.

By nine years after release, about five of every six (83%) state inmates in the sample of releasees from 2005 had been re-arrested. If the sample’s recidivism rate holds true for the approximately 400,000 total state inmates released in 2005, it would mean the overall group saw 2 million arrests, or an average of five re-arrests per released offender.
That average would be somewhat misleading, the report notes, since about a million of the re-arrests could be attributed to just 23% of the releasees, and three-fifths of the total re-arrests occurred between the fourth and ninth years after release. But recidivism seems to have persisted among the sample group: of those re-arrested in their first year after release, only 5% were not arrested again in the following years.

Another striking finding of the new study was that while the recidivism rate is highest (about 44%) for the first year after release, it remained as high as 24% in the ninth year after release.

The authors of the updated study also found differences in the recidivism rates for inmates released after serving time for offenses against property and those who did time for violent crimes, with the property offenders more likely to be re-arrested than were those who had committed crimes of violence; that held true for each post-release year.

For all releasees, fewer arrested during their first year after being released were likely to have been re-arrested in a different state (just 8%) than were ex-inmates re-arrested nine years after being released (14%).

Inmates who served time for drug crimes and were re-arrested after release did not confine their subsequent crimes to additional drug offenses; 77% were re-arrested for a crime other than a drug offense within nine years.

Recidivism researchers often reach inconsistent conclusions, and earlier BJS studies have drawn criticism for supposedly having disproportionate numbers of frequent offenders in the sample group. But whatever the level, proposals on how to deal with recidivism are likely to be part of the ongoing debate on prison reform: The Trump administration-backed First Step proposal, which handily cleared the House of Representatives and is awaiting Senate action, focuses mainly on measures its sponsors claim would make released federal inmates less likely to offend again.

Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2017) and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014). He regularly contributes to New York Daily NewsPrison Legal News, and Criminal Legal News. He can be found online at, and