Federal offenders (in eight years) had less than half the returns to prison than states (after five years).
Over an eight-year follow-up period, almost one-half of federal offenders (49.3%) were rearrested for a new crime or rearrested for a violation of supervision conditions compared to 76.6% of all state prisoners after five years.
Over two-thirds (76.9%) of state drug offenders released from state prison were rearrested within five years, compared to 41.9% of federal drug trafficking offenders released from prison over the same five-year period.
It may be possible that the length of incarceration (federal inmates serve 85 percent of much longer sentences) is the primary variable in less federal recidivism.
Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council.
Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University.
The report at the bottom of this article from the United States Sentencing Commission’s study of recidivism of all federal offenders follows our analysis of an earlier report from the same body on the difference between federal drug trafficking offenders and those released from state prisons for drug crimes and all crime.
For your convenience, we are going to:
Offer the United States Sentencing Commission’s on all recidivism (below)
Summarize the previous article from Crime in America.Net on federal and state drug trafficking recidivism from the United States Sentencing Commission.
Earlier Report on Federal Drug Trafficker Recidivism
Federal drug traffickers had considerably lower rates of recidivism. For example:
State Recidivism-All Crimes
State Recidivism: 76.6% of all state prisoners released in 30 states in were arrested for a new crime or technical violation within five years of release.
State Recidivism: There are few criminal specialists. Released inmates were involved in a wide range of law-violating behaviors. See Crime in America-Arrests and Recidivism
Federal Recidivism-Drug Trafficking
Federal Recidivism: One-half (50.0%) of these drug trafficking offenders were rearrested for a new crime or for an alleged violation of their supervision over the follow-up period of eight years.
Federal and State Drug Recidivism: Over two-thirds (76.9%) of state drug offenders released from state prison were rearrested within five years, compared to 41.9% of federal drug trafficking offenders released from prison over the same five year period.
From the United States Sentencing Commission’s Report On All Offender Recidivism:
Over an eight-year follow-up period, almost one-half of federal offenders released in 2005 (49.3%) were rearrested for a new crime or rearrested for a violation of supervision conditions compared to 76.6% of all state prisoners arrested for a new crime or technical violation within five years of release.
Returns to Prison
There are also vast differences between state and federal inmates as to returns to prison. Almost one-third (31.7%) of the federal offenders (all recidivism) were also reconvicted, and one-quarter (24.6%) of the offenders were reincarcerated over the same eight-year study period (report below), compared to 55.1% of inmates within 5 years of release, see Crime in America-Arrests and Recidivism.
Why the Immense Difference Between Federal and State Inmates?
Our previous article, “Do Longer Prison Sentences Reduce Recidivism? Federal Drug Trafficking Recidivism is Much Lower Than State Returns,” at Crime in America-Federal Drug Recidivism, cites United States Sentencing Commission data suggesting that longer sentences may reduce crime upon release.
This is what the Federal Sentencing Commission said:
Recidivism Among Federal Drug Trafficking Offenders older age at release of those receiving longer mandatory minimum penalties may be at least one factor explaining the link between drug mandatory minimum penalties and recidivism.
There was little apparent association between the length of imprisonment and recidivism. However, once criminal history category is accounted for, the length of the sentence originally imposed was associated with lower rates of recidivism.
Rather than repeat the full analysis already offered from our previous article, please refer to Crime in America-Federal Drug Recidivism.
That said, after publishing the article in Crime in America.Net, several commenters suggested that it’s the quality of treatment programs within the federal system that account for the difference. But we are unaware of data suggesting that the length, quality, and quantity of programs offered in the federal Bureau of Prisons is any different than those offered in state systems.
We are also aware of the limited effect treatment programs have, and when they work, the results rarely exceed ten percent, see Crime in America-Nothing Works Well.
If there is no recent data documenting the difference between federal and state treatment programs in prison, (an old Bureau of Justice Statistics document from the late 1990’s states Over 50% of State and over 40% of Federal prisoners had ever participated in treatment or other programs for substance abuse; a third of State and a quarter of Federal prisoners had participated since their admission) and if the current track record of programs is marginal at best, neither explain the vast difference between federal and state recidivism.
What we said in the previous article on federal drug trafficking:
If we are correct, federal drug trafficking inmates served longer sentences and were older upon release; we are all aware that age at release is correlated to recidivism.
We also suspect that state inmates have more serious and complex criminal histories than federal prisoners. If you look at current data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 46.4 are drug offenders and 15.5 are violent offenders. Most state prison inmates are either violent or multi-repeat felons.
We have no reason to suggest that our earlier analysis would be any different than what’s offered above. It may be possible that the length of incarceration (federal inmates serve 85 percent of much longer sentences) and the complexity of state inmates are the primary variables in less federal recidivism.
Current Report on All Federal Offenders and Recidivism
This report provides a broad overview of key findings from the United States Sentencing Commission’s study of recidivism of federal offenders.
The Commission studied offenders who were either released from federal prison after serving a sentence of imprisonment or placed on a term of probation in 2005.
Nearly half (49.3%) of such offenders were rearrested within eight years for either a new crime or for some other violation of the condition of their probation or release conditions.
This report discusses the Commission’s recidivism research project and provides many additional findings from that project. In the future, the Commission will release additional publications discussing specific topics concerning recidivism of federal offenders. (March 2016)
The offenders studied in this project are 25,431 federal offenders.
The key findings of the Commission’s study are:
Over an eight-year follow-up period, almost one-half of federal offenders released in 2005 (49.3%) were rearrested for a new crime or rearrested for a violation of supervision conditions.
Almost one-third (31.7%) of the offenders were also reconvicted, and one-quarter (24.6%) of the offenders were reincarcerated over the same study period.
Offenders released from incarceration in 2005 had a rearrest rate of 52.5 percent, while offenders released directly to a probationary sentence had a rearrest rate of 35.1 percent.
Of those offenders who recidivated, most did so within the first two years of the eight year follow-up period. The median time to rearrest was 21 months.
About one-fourth of those rearrested had an assault rearrest as their most serious charge over the study period. Other common most serious offenses were drug trafficking, larceny, and public order offenses.
A federal offender’s criminal history was closely correlated with recidivism rates. Rearrest rates range from 30.2 percent for offenders with zero total criminal history points to 80.1 percent of offenders in the highest Criminal History Category, VI. Each additional criminal history point was generally associated with a greater likelihood of recidivism.
A federal offender’s age at the time of release into the community was also closely associated with differences in recidivism rates. Offenders released prior to age 21 had the highest rearrest rate, 67.6 percent, while offenders over sixty years old at the time of release had a recidivism rate of 16.0 percent with the exception of very short sentences (less than 6 months),
The rate of recidivism varies very little by length of prison sentence imposed (fluctuating between 50.8% for sentences between 6 months to 2 years, to a high of 55.5% for sentences between 5 to 9 years).
Other factors, including offense type and educational level, were associated with differing rates of recidivism but less so than age and criminal history.
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