Thursday, July 01, 2010
Dropping the baton: Is recidivism the wrong metric for measuring reentry success?
Half of the 72,000 people released from TDCJ each year are "flat discharges," said Wilson - people with whom the system loses contact entirely after their release. Ironically, flat discharges have slightly better recidivism results overall than people on parole, even though they're unsupervised and can't access services. That's in part because many are older inmates who served their full sentences are far less likely to recidivate (which is the case with older inmates generally). Drilling deeper into the data, though, one category of flat discharges has among the highest recidivism rates: State jail offenders, particularly those with mental health diagnoses.
Texas' 3-year recidivism rate, said Wilson, is 27.9%, compared to 44% in Florida and New York and 58% in California. However, Becky Ney, a consultant from the National Institute of Corrections, said she didn't know if Texas' lower recidivism rate is inherently good or bad, and I'd tend to agree it's an open question. All else being equal, it could mean Texas does a better job at rehabilitation. OTOH, it could also mean the state is sending people to prison who aren't really that big a threat and just aren't likely to return. (See past Grits discussion of Texas recidivism rates here and here.)
Jerry Madden at one point suggested that recidivism may be the wrong metric to watch, that there should be metrics documenting success instead of only failure. I agree. If Texas successfully reduces the number of low-risk offenders in prison, that may reduce crime overall but recidivism may increase for the more hardened inmates who remain. It'd be more probative to identify measurements of success to monitor - getting an ID, a home, a job - instead of focusing exclusively on recidivism.