Success in the Media

San Francisco has highest recidivism rate in California—78 percent go back to prison.

The report below comes from KALW news, a public radio station serving the San Francisco and Oakland areas. It’s really great to see a radio station retake the mantle of news reporting.

The summary is extracted from their report. See .

National prisoner recidivism data is offered below.

Crime in America.Net

KALW report:

San Francisco has one of the highest recidivism rates in the state—some 78.3 percent go back to prison within three years of release—according to a report released today by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

The study tracked about 108,000 inmates released from state prisons between 2005 and 2006 over the course of three years. Overall, the state recidivism rate, which has long been among the highest in the country, clocks in at 67.5 percent.

The study notes that San Francisco, like other high-recidivism counties, “received more re-released inmates than those who were first released.”

Re-released offenders are 10 percent more likely to return to lockup.

By far, men between the ages of 18 and 19 are the most likely to reoffend, and mostly for stealing cars and “absconding,” which is corrections-speak for failing to regularly report in to a parole officer. Parole violations are the reason the majority of parolees return to prison (47 percent). Recidivists also went back to prison for property crimes (8 percent), drug crimes (6 percent) and 3 percent went back for “crimes against persons.”

Key findings:

  • Most inmates who commit new crimes or violate their parole do so in the first six months. An additional 25 percent return to prison within the first year.
  • Recidivism in California mostly declined with age, with 74.3 percent of 18- to 19-year- olds returning to prison within three years. In contrast, parolees 60 or over return to prison 46.3 percent of the time.
  • Top reasons offenders return to prison include vehicle theft (77 percent), escaping/absconding (75.9 percent) and receiving stolen property (75.3 percent).
  • Recidivism rates increase with each additional stay at a CDCR institution. First-time offenders have a 51.1 percent likelihood of returning to prison; those who have been in prison 15 or more times have a 86.3 percent chance of going back.
  • Women return to prison at much lower rates than men (58 percent for women, compared to 68.6 percent for men).
  • Recidivism rates for first-time offenders are highest for Native Americans, African Americans and white inmates.
  • Sex offenders make up 6.5 percent of parolees, and have a lower recidivism rate than other offenders. Five percent of released sex offenders who recidivate are convicted of a sex offense, 8.6 percent commit an unrelated crime and 86 percent return to prison on a parole violation.

Guest blogger Bernice Yeung is a San Francisco-based journalist who writes frequently about social and cultural issues, with a focus on legal affairs and the criminal justice system.

Previously offered national data:

52 Percent of Released Prisoners Return to Prison-67 Percent Rearrested

Crime in America.Net

We have a reader request; she asks about recidivism of people released from prison (arrests, convictions, returns to prison).

The difficulty of this request is that there is nothing of a national and substantive nature except for a US Department of Justice study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics that was released in June of 2002 based on inmates released from prison in 1994.

Note that there are a variety of older studies from the Bureau of Justice Statistics that remains definitive for many years. This study involved a very large set of data from 15 states and the methodology (quality of the research) was very good. This is the most quoted recidivism study in the country.

It followed offenders for three years and tracked results.

Principle Findings:

The study (see summary below) found that:

Two-thirds (sixty-seven) of offenders were arrested for “serious” crimes.

Fifty-two percent of the offenders were returned to prison for “serious” crimes and technical violations (they didn’t follow the rules of their release after prison).

Current Studies:

There are a wide variety of state and local studies that also examined recidivism but none with the same large data set (numbers of people followed) and none with the same rigorous methodology. We will address these studies in a future post.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics is redoing the study discussed here and will have results in 2011.

Main Characteristics of Recidivism:

 The study found two primary variables in recidivism which seem to be present in virtually all past and current studies:

Younger prisoners and those with longer records were more likely to be rearrested.

Post-prison recidivism was strongly related to arrest history.

Can these Results be Changed?

Yes. Interventions providing programs for offenders both in and out of prison can lower recidivism from 10 to 20 percent. See:

Previous Study:

A previous study titled “Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1983” was released in April of 1989.  It was an analysis of the criminal records of more than 16,000 men and women, representing the almost 109,000 offenders who were released from prisons in 11 States during 1983.

The study links correctional data with federal and state criminal history records to provide a complete portrait of criminal careers for more than a half of the State prisoners released.

About 47% of the former prisoners were convicted of a new crime and 41 percent were sent back to prison or jail.


2002 Study:


WASHINGTON, D.C.—Sixty-seven percent of former inmates released from state prisons in 1994 committed at least one serious new crime within the following three years.

This was a rearrest rate 5 percent higher than that among prisoners released during 1983.

State prisoners with the highest rearrest rates were those who had been incarcerated for stealing motor vehicles (79 percent), possessing or selling stolen property (77 percent), larceny (75 percent), burglary (74 percent), robbery (70 percent) or those using, possessing or trafficking in illegal weapons (70 percent).

Those with the lowest rearrest rates were former inmates who had been in prison for homicide (41 percent), sexual assault (41 percent), rape (46 percent) or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (51 percent).

About 1 percent of the released prisoners who had served time for murder were arrested for another homicide within three years, and about 2 percent of the rapists were arrested for another rape within that period.

Within three years, 52 percent of the 272,111 released prisoners were back in prison either because of a new crime or because they had violated their parole conditions (e.g., failed a drug test, missed a parole office appointment).

Men were more likely to be rearrested than were women (68 percent, compared to 58 percent), blacks more likely than whites (73 percent vs. 63 percent) and non-Hispanics more than Hispanics (71 percent vs. 65 percent).

Younger prisoners and those with longer records were also more likely to be rearrested.

Post-prison recidivism was strongly related to arrest history.

Among prisoners with one arrest prior to their release, 41 percent were rearrested. Of those with two prior arrests, 47 percent were rearrested. Of those with three earlier arrests, 55 percent were rearrested. Among those with more than 15 prior arrests, that is about 18 percent of all released prisoners, 82 percent were rearrested within the three-year period.

The 272,111 inmates had accumulated more than 4.1 million arrest charges prior to their current imprisonment and acquired an additional 744,000 arrest charges in the 3 years following their discharge in 1994 – an average of about 18 criminal arrest charges per offender during their criminal careers.

These charges included almost 21,000 homicides, 200,000 robberies, 50,000 rapes and sexual assaults and almost 300,000 assaults.

Almost 8 percent of all released prisoners were rearrested for a new crime in a state other than the one that released them. These alleged offenders were charged with committing 55,760 new crimes in states other than the imprisoning state within the three-year period. New York, Arizona and California had the most arrests of out-of-state offenders in this study.

The data were from the largest recidivism study ever conducted in the United States, which tracked prisoners discharged in 15 states representing two-thirds of all state prisoners released in 1994.

They were 91 percent male, 50 percent white, 48 percent black, 24 percent Hispanic (of any race) and 44 percent were younger than 30 years old.

Most of them had been in prison for felonies: 22 percent for a violent offense (such as murder, rape, sexual assault or robbery), 33 percent for a serious property offense (mostly burglary, motor vehicle theft or fraud), 33 percent for a drug offense (primarily drug trafficking or possession) and 10 percent for public order offenses (mainly drunk driving or weapons crimes).

Most former convicts were rearrested shortly after getting out of prison: 30 percent within six months, 44 percent within a year, 59 percent within two years and 67 percent by the end of three years.

The study findings are based upon the prison and criminal records of an estimated 272,111 discharged prisoners in 15 states who were tracked through fingerprints records made at various points of contact with the justice system, both within the state in which they had served time and other states to which they traveled.

The BJS special report, “Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1994″  was written by BJS statisticians Patrick A. Langan and David J. Levin.




  1. The American legal system has been corrupted almost beyond recognition, Judge Edith Jones of the U.S. Court of Appeals

    No ‘Great Awakening’ In Law School Classrooms (Great Awakening 1730-1760)

    The judge said ruefully, “There has been no Great Awakening in the law school classroom since those words were written.”

    She said that the question of what is morally right is routinely sacrificed to what is politically expedient.

    Which means we are living today with a justice system, lawyers, attorneys, and of course police officers, and law schools, no matter how diverse, have been trained and are being trained in a slave ship mentality. Anyone who is a part of that system is providing a means for keeping that mentality alive. Making the American justice system and those participants therein, at every level the greatest collective deterrent to equity, equality, justice, fairness and freedom This exactly why this collective must be done away with.

    I read very sad article and a great comment on the real meaning of truth justice, equity, equality and freedom, in San Francisco as well as the rest of America. If truth, equity, equality and freedom have anything to do with budget, then the entire point and meaning of each has been lost. Most of us thanks to pretty much all aspects of the American justice system fight against that systems collective for justice, equity, equality and freedom for free, why? Because it is that important! No budget cuts of any kind lessen that duty, that responsibility! It can not if equity, equality, justice, fairness and freedom are viewed are worth fighting for. If they are viewed as not worth fighting for, budget cuts does lessen each.

    Truth is, we know it is not the budget cuts.


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