Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Why are Texas' recidivism rates so low?


Are felons in Texas less likely to commit new crimes upon release than offenders in the rest of the nation? It looks that way from official statistics, but I wonder if they're accurate?

According to this January 2005 report on recidivism (pdf) and a recent TDCJ self-analysis, Texas' three-year reincarceration rate - that is, the percentage of released prisoners who wind up back in Texas prisons within three years - is a lot lower than other states and the national average. Texas' 3-year recidivism rate, say both reports, is less than half that of California's: 28.3 percent compared with more than 60 percent in the Golden State.

Here are comparisons from page 6 of the 2005 LBB report (statistics are older because three years must lapse to calculate recidivism):

State 3-Year Reincarceration Rate
California (2000) 60.5
Colorado (1999) 46.8
National (1994) 51.8
Texas (2001) 28.3

What's going on here? Are Texas' stats underreported, or are we really TWICE as good at California at preventing ex-felons from re-offending? I really don't know - that statistic is a head scratcher to me. I don't understand why it would be true, but there it is.

If you have any knowledge - or even a good guess - as to why these numbers are so disparate, please let me know in the comments.


Anonymous said...

My guess would be that Texas is putting a lot of low level people in prison who aren't really crooks and don't need to be there. Since many weren't actually bad guys to begin with, when they get out fewer re-offend. Just a guess.

I suppose they could be underreporting but it seems like they ought to be able to tell who does or doesn't return to prison.

Good question! Interesting.

Michael Connelly said...

OK's recidivism rates are similar, and the reason given (unofficially) is just as Anonymous says. One way to check would be to look at the LSI-R scores of the recidivists or to take a cohort of releasees and do a survival analysis of them by low, medium, and high LSI-R scores. In OK, the numbers are telling, roughly 3/4ths of the "low" are still out 3 years later while only about 7% of the "high" are. It would make a good study. Glad you brought it up.

Anonymous said...

The definition used in most 'official' recidivism calculations is re-incarceration for a new separate offense. So, parolees revoked for a 'technical' violation of parole conditions that do not involve a conviction for a new crime would not be included. I don't know if the other states referenced use this definition, but it would explain lower numbers.

John Q. Doe said...

Are California’s Recidivism Rates Really the Highest in the Nation?
It Depends on What Measure of Recidivism You Use

by Ryan G. Fischer, Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Criminology, Law and Society University of California - Irvine

Politicians, the media, and the public often portray California as having the highest recidivism rate
in the nation. Its 70% plus recidivism rate is certainly unacceptable, but is it really higher than the rates in other states that handle similarly serious
offenders and have similar sentencing and parole policies? Analyses recently completed by UCI researchers revealed that when one defines recidivism equivalently across states, uses the same follow-up time period, and compares similarly serious offenders, California’s technical violation rates are higher than other states, however its rates of new arrests and new criminal convictions are not always higher. Because recidivism is typically used to gauge a state’s performance, getting the data right – and making sure we compare apples to apples – has significant policy implications.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Excellent, excellent responses!

Anonymous, good thinking, and how cool that Michael had the OK stats and a research methodology. Those Okie numbers are just stunning - if Texas' breakdown is anything close, that would pretty much explain the disparity.

@anonymous2, that definitely would skew the numbers, but I doublechecked and Texas is counting recidivists as those who re-enter prison within 3 years for any reason, including both new offenses and revocations.

And to Eugenics PI (what a handle!), thanks for the link to the study!! Interestingly, though, on p. 4, two chart show Texas with HALF California's new-conviction rate, and a 40% lower re-arrest rate. Since that study purports to compare "apples to apples" numbers, I think you've confirmed for me that the Texas statistics relative to other states are likely accurate, and we should be looking for reasons why, not to debunk the premise. Good find.

Fascinating stuff - if anybody's got anymore thoughts on this, please let me know.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I don't think GWB had much to do with this, 800, and I'm not sure what to "wait" for - there aren't any other sources of recidivism stats besides the prison system itself.

If Michael and Anonymous1 are right, this doesn't mean Texas' system "works" so much as it means we're unnecessarily incarcerating more people than is necessary to preserve public safety. Ironically, if that thesis is true, a higher recidivism rate might be evidence that a larger number of low-risk offenders are properly being supervised in the community.

If that hypothesis is accurate, in California's case I'll bet Prop 36 (which mandates treatment instead of incarceration for most drug offenders) has a lot to do with the differing stats.

Maybe I need to do another post: Are higher recidivism rates a good thing?

Anonymous said...

could it possibly be that fewer people are getting out of prison in Texas?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Sunray, I'm trying to imagine how that would affect these numbers. Since the question is how many return within three years after leaving, the ones who aren't released, it seems to me, wouldn't be part of the equation at all. Or am I misunderstanding?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Sunray, an emailer sent me some stats that say you may be right, but just for one class of offenders - state jail felons. Since there's no parole, they aren't supervised when they get out, so fewer are "revoked" compared to CA and other states since they aren't on supervision. I think the rest of the disparity is probably explained by anonymosu1 and Michael's suggestion, if I had to guess. I'm going to do a post on this subject again today - this discussion has moved the debate along pretty far!

Anonymous said...

It most definitely is the definition of “recidivism,” as anonymous has suggested. In Arkansas, the definition is, “Incarceration of an offender in prison due to a new felony conviction or revocation for technical violation.” While is Texas, the definition of recidivism is, “Incarceration of an offender in prison due to a new felony conviction.” As a parole officer myself, I see roughly the same number of parolees being re-incarcerated due to technical violations, as I do new felony convictions. California has the most open definition of recidivism that I could find, “The return to prison by a parolee for any reason.” This alone explains why Texas and California’s recidivism rates are so different.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To the last anonymous, that's incorrect. Texas' definition of recidivism in the cited numbers is precisely anyone who returns for any reason, including revocations of probation and parole. Best,

Angie said...

This is an old post but I believe the reason why Texas has such a low recidivism rate is because their penalties for crime are much more harsh than other states. For instance, in sexual assault crimes, Texas allows for castration of the offender...THAT would certainly make someone think twice!

Keirasings said...

In my opinion the reason is simple. Would you want to go back to a place where in the heat of summer, can reach upward of 100 degrees? There are no air conditioners in all Texas prisons. It's just a factor that no one thinks to take into account. How about asking an actual offender, "why?" They will tell you about the agonizing heat, no soap or toiletries for those without money in their accounts, and various other restrictions.

The theory that the state jail system aids in the lower rate is extremely flawed. Even though no parole is exacted on these inmates, there ARE restrictions placed on every state jail felon for up to 6 months after release. One such example is suspension of a driver's license. Any such violation of this can result in further incarceration.

I would also like to see further comparative analysis between the two systems and what kind of help or rehabilitation is available to each--which may help to enlighten us as to why Texas seems more successful on this. There must be other factors taken into account such as Texas' prisons may get a higher rate of spiritual needs services(religious) as opposed to California, for example.

Anonymous said...

The actual reason it is so low is that Texas switched their focus to rehabilitation and treatment as opposed to just sticking criminals into prison for a certain amount of time. Since that switch their recidivism rates have declined dramatically. Along with those of other states who have taken the same path such as Michigan (recidivism rate dropped 18%), Kansas (dropped 15%), Ohio (dropped 11%), Vermont (dropped 11%), and Mississippi (dropped 9%).