Thursday, August 4, 2011

Recidivism Reduction?

The question to be asked here—based on decades of rehabilitation program failure—in this story from Deseret News, is the drop a result of not sending people back to prison that were normally sent back and are now being sent to programs or an actual drop in their criminal behavior.

If you are just shifting people from one correctional program, prison, to another, drug abuse/mental health treatment, but only count as recidivism those going to prison, then what has really been accomplished?

Until the specific drug abuse/mental health programs have been rigorously evaluated and shows a corresponding result, claims of recidivism reduction may be premature.

That being said, we certainly wish Utah well in their efforts to help criminals.

An excerpt.

“SALT LAKE CITY — More than 50 percent of Utah ex-convicts commit crimes within three years of their release and end up back behind bars, but the most recent figures represent a drop compared to data from the late 1990s, according to a report released Wednesday.

“From 1999 to 2002, 65.8 percent of prisoners ended up back behind bars at some point, but the numbers dropped from 2004 to 2007, to 53.7 percent, according to the report by the Pew Center on the States.

“Jean Nielsen, director of Salt Lake County's Department of Human Services, credits Utah's improvement over the years to an increase in substance abuse programs and resources that help the mentally ill.

"Instead of putting the mentally ill in jail, we have teams of social workers and psychiatrists that help them," Nielsen said. "With education, training, substance abuse programs, various treatment, housing options, and counseling, we want to ensure they have a smooth transition back into society and don't go back to jail."

“Utah's recidivism rate remains above the national average of 43 percent. The Pew Center study showed only marginal improvement in the nation's recidivism rate even as spending on corrections departments increased to about $52 billion annually from around $30 billion a decade ago.

"Despite an enormous escalation in spending, the overall recidivism rates have not budged," said Adam Gelb of the center's Public Safety Performance Project. "A lot of the funding is being put into the wrong places. We know much more than 30 years ago and there are other options such as research-based strategies for non-violent offenders that are more effective."

“About 43 percent of prisoners in the U.S. who were released in 2004 were sent back to prison by 2007, either for a new crime or for violating the conditions of their release, the study found. That number was down from 45 percent during a similar period beginning in 1999.

“One of Utah's biggest challenges, according to Steve Gehrke, a spokesman for the Utah Department of Corrections, is funding for new programs that would lower the recidivism rates.

“Nielsen said those include substance abuse treatments, which have about a five-month waiting list.

"Our biggest cry is for more substance abuse treatment resources," Nielsen said. "Some of these people are recommended for treatment, but we just don't have the resources to support their needs, so they end up back in jail."