By Richard Foster
Ninety-five percent of American prisoners will be released back into society, based on information from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. One of the most important goals of the criminal justice system is to reduce the likelihood they will recidivate upon release. Research shows that completion of a GED during incarceration reduces the rate of recidivism by approximately five percent. The Bureau also reports that, “As of June 30, 2009, state and federal correctional authorities had jurisdiction over 1,617,478 prisoners.” Five percent would therefore be equivalent to around 80,000 fewer returnees.
According to the U. S. Department of Justice: FY 2011 Budget Request, “As a result of successful law enforcement policies, the number of criminal suspects appearing in federal court continues to grow, as does the number of individuals ordered detained and ultimately incarcerated.” It goes on to explain that the number of FY 2010 prisoners was 215,000 which is expected to rise approximately 3.2% in FY 2011, up 7,000 to 222,000 inmates.
The notion that an increase in the inmate population represents success could be viewed differently. These 7,000 suspects, detainees, and convicts are representative of two categories of offenders. Some are new to the federal system, yet many are returning after previous incarceration. Whether due for parole violations or due to new charges being filed, recidivism rates account for an unnecessarily large proportion of those within our prison system. The Pew Center on the States’ report, State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons, April 13, 2011, reports that based on the data received by 41 states on prisoners released in 2004, after three years, the normal time period for these studies, there was a recidivism rate of 43.3%. This represents almost half the inmates released. It is no wonder that the U.S. has the largest percentage of its population incarcerated, as many of those who recidivate end up back in prison. Again, according to the Pew study, “…, incarceration levels had risen to a point where one in 100 American adults was behind bars. A second Pew study the following year added another disturbing dimension to the picture, revealing that one in 31 adults in the United States was either incarcerated or on probation or parole.”