The mantra driving the expenditure of huge sums of money to combat the recidivism problem—approximately 70% of criminals released from prison return—is to create sanctions (which could have some impact) and provide services.
The services strategy has been failing for several decades, primarily because the decision to become a criminal is an internal decision, hardened by prison, and without an internal change—based on experiential knowledge trumping that of the criminal world—recidivism will continue at these high levels and probably even increase.
A recent law passed in New Hampshire exemplifies the service approach, as this news release from the National Reentry Resource Center notes.
“SB 500, which was introduced by Senate President Sylvia Larsen (D-Concord), mirrored a framework of policies developed and endorsed by a bipartisan, inter-branch Justice Reinvestment Work Group chaired by Attorney General Michael Delaney. The legislation was cosponsored by legislators from both sides of the aisle, including House Speaker Terie Norelli (D-Portsmouth), Senate Minority Leader Peter E. Bragdon (R-Milford), and both the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over criminal justice policy. The work group was created to guide the assistance provided by the Council of State Governments Justice Center to analyze the state’s criminal justice system and develop data-driven policy options for consideration.
“The law will accomplish the following:
• Focus supervision on high-risk offenders by reducing the length of supervision for low-risk offenders
• Enable probation officers to employ short, swift jail sanctions for minor probation violations, when permitted, by judges at sentencing.
• Establish a seven-day residential intermediate sanction for minor parole violators and a designated ninety-day parole revocation facility to re-engage parole violators in treatment and comply with supervision.
• Ensure that everyone leaving prison receives at least nine months of supervision.
• Require nonviolent offenders to serve no more than 120 percent of their minimum sentence.
“Department of Corrections Commissioner William Wrenn said, "New Hampshire’s probation and parole officers serve on the front lines of the criminal justice system every day to protect the public through careful monitoring. This law will help reduce their workload, enabling them to spend more time supervising those individuals who pose the greatest risk to public safety."
“Furthermore, the policy changes are projected to generate savings that can be reinvested in drug treatment, mental health services, and rapid drug testing--three areas to which the state currently allocates no state funding to the community through the Department of Corrections.
"The majority of individuals in prison and jail have either mental health or addiction disorders (or both), which has been associated with homelessness, joblessness, family dysfunction, crime and, yes, recidivism," Chief Justice John Broderick, said. "Without available state funds for drug tests, intermediate sanctions to quickly respond to minor violations, or contracted drug treatment in the community, probation and parole officers have few tools beyond revocation. This law will make a difference not only in terms of public safety outcomes, but also in families restored and lives saved."