Thursday, July 01, 2010

Dropping the baton: Is recidivism the wrong metric for measuring reentry success?

At yesterday's House Corrections Committee hearing, Dee Wilson of TDCJ's new Reentry division likened the failures of the criminal justice system to a dropped baton in a 4x100 relay. Cops hand inmates off to jails who hand them off to probation or prison, she said (probation can also "hand them off" to prison), then prison hands them off either to parole or to society at large through direct discharge. At too many points in the process, she said, institutional players drop the baton, often because of a failure to share information, accurately assess inmates, and act on those assessments.

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.


Anonymous said...

So, clarify. It seems that you want more on community supervision rather than in prison, but the rates are higher for that group to return to the pen as opposed to flat discharges from prison. Are you missing a paragraph, or are you advocating for more tolerance for those on parole and more treatment interventions? It seems flat discharges are more effective than parole and is that because they're not carrying a tag identifying them as a parolee and thus eligible for more services? A felon is still a felon regardless of status, so is there something that automatically denies services for those on parole because of TDCJ's involvement?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:01, there's no one-size-fits-all solution. I advocate expanded treatment, but not for every case (by a long shot). According to evidence based practices, the key is assessment. High risk defendants benefit from such programming while low-risk defendants' risk goes UP if they're subjected to programming they don't need.

"Flat discharges" include several types of defendants lumped together. It's best to distinguish state jail discharges from the others because they're only there two years and their recidivism is high, whereas older inmates who serve their time flat in the institutional division tend to have quite low recidivism rates.

So for those who are low-risk, discharge without parole IS more effective. For those who are high-risk, not so much.

And to clarify (your last sentence seems a little confused), inmates on parole have access to what services there are, but not those who are out on flat time unsupervised. Plus, employers can check criminal histories for both parolees and those who serve their full sentence - there's no real distinction on that front.

Texas Maverick said...

Two key measures regardless if it is parole or flat discharge -family support and accepting responsibility for their actions. If both are present, then it's a one trial event in my opinion and age isn't a factor. If these are the measures by the parole board instead of the nature of the crime, any treatment necessary can be provided in house if the inmate and family cannot afford private treatment. Otherwise, don't keep spending taxpayer money keeping someone in. Family support, acceptance, treatment -win-win all the way round. I agree study the sucesses to see how they did it. I bet acceptance & family support are the keys to success.

Kenneth D. Franks said...

We lock up too many people, for too long, at too much expense. It's big business for private prisons and county jails that overbuild to house inmates from other counties and even take the place of the overcrowded public prison system. The low recidivism is for non-violent minor offenses and people that could have stayed out of prison under supervision, still working instead of us spending nearly 20,000.00 a year just to hold them.
Older inmates being released also keeps the rate low.
We need to invest more resources in public schools, special programs to get dropouts in GED programs, training for vocational careers for youth/young adults and we will see savings on the prison side.

Anonymous said...

"...older inmates who served their full sentences are far less likely to recidivate."

They are not as vicious after they turn 50. Wish they would slow down before they turn 50.

Anonymous said...

Texas isn't about helping an ex-con re-acclimate to society. They want you to fail, and so do legislators. If this were not the case, the laws that are increased yearly wouldn't be like they are.

TDCJEX said...

The keys to success on release is not anything that could not be fixed if we had the political will and courage . Simply get rid of those foolish do more harm than feel good background checks and the box as it is called where you check if you have a felony conviction as it is called only a few types of employment require any type of back ground check period only sex offenders should be required to do this in certain situations (No not the guy who slept with a 17 year old girl ) it does not matter who you are . It really is that simple oda way with back ground checks person no one should have the right to look around your life or kep a re3od on any one in fact if you do as a individual person it can be guess what a

All of the other things are nice but having gainful employment and a place to live are the most important things . support need not come for a family it often comes from a friend met during incarceration many prisoners people lose contact with their family with in 3 – 5 years .Some families I would want no where near the person being released .

Prisoners with violent convictions tend to do better on release than those with non violent drug convictions . A violent convection does not mean a person always violent and a non violent conviction does not mean they are harmless pot heads . Not having a conviction does not mean yo uar a good person nor not going ot cause harm in one way or another either .

K Franks is right the US not just one state needs to invest much more in things like special ed or a better version of it, The chance of going to prison if you have a learning disability are increase about 66 % if you have a learning disability . If you are dyslexic you have a very good chance of going to prison I you are dyslexic and black or H ispanic you are all but guaranteed that you will go to prison if you have a mental illness you will probably end up incarcerated . That is not a record to be proud of

vocational schools , and psychological help .before a person ever gets to prison and also maybe make sure there are well paying jobs for a person to make a living at . Most people uner50 n know damn well that their job is temporary and could be sent to a 3rd world country . Most people growing up poor know that do not have a chance .

Anonymous said...

I thank God regularly that my grandfather did not have that attitude. He was a poor immigrant. His father died when he was in fifth grade. He had to quit school and work to help support his mother brothers and sisters. He worked his butt off, made sure all of his kids not only graduated high school but went to college.

So sad that people have such limited views of their ability to be productive. Multi-generation Americans are so entitled and lazy.