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New Sentencing Commission Report Finds High Recidivism Rates

New Sentencing Commission Report Finds High Recidivism Rates

Earlier this month, the U.S. Sentencing Commission released a comprehensive report on the recidivism of federal offenders. The report examined the cases of over 25,000 individuals released from prison in 2005. Here are some of the major findings from the Sentencing Commission’s report:

  • Nearly 50% of federal offenders were arrested for another crime or for a violation of parole/probation within eight years of their initial release, and around 25% were re-incarcerated;
  • The average length of time between release and arrest for the next offense was 21 months;
  • The recidivism rate was highly correlated with age at time of release – younger individuals were significantly more likely to recommit a crime than older individuals.

The first of the above findings is particularly concerning. If half of all individuals sent to federal prison recommit a crime once they are released, then it seems that we are not addressing the many societal factors that drive people to crime in the first place. Nor is the federal criminal justice system doing an adequate job of rehabilitating prisoners and preparing them for reentry into society.

The Reform Movement recognizes that crime is often directly tied to structural inequalities, rather than to the inherent characteristics of certain people. In its 1968 resolution on crime, the Reform Movement affirmed that “we should treat the causes of crime and disorder,” among them “poverty, discrimination, ignorance, disease and urban blight, and the anger, cynicism or despair those conditions can inspire…” While these factors persist in our society, we will not successfully eliminate crime or recidivism. That is just one of many reasons why our work on criminal justice reform is intricately linked to the Movement’s broader campaign to end structural racism in all forms.

Furthermore, as Reform Jews, we believe that responding to crime requires a balance of justice and mercy, punishment and rehabilitation. As we are told in Ezekiel, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked should turn away from his life and live” (33:11). Currently, the U.S. federal criminal justice system is out of balance. Overly punitive prison sentences combine with a systemic failure to provide prisoners with the kinds of anti-recidivism and rehabilitation programs that are demonstrated to reduce the likelihood of recommitting a crime. It is no surprise, then, that recidivism rates remain so high.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123) would start to return the balance between punishment and rehabilitation to the federal system. The legislation would reduce overly long mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, thereby freeing up resources which could be reinvested in promoting rehabilitation. At the same time, it would incentivize a prisoner’s participation in anti-recidivism and reentry programs by rewarding that participation with earned time, which would then be used to finish up to the last quarter of the prisoner’s sentence in an alternative to prison (hallway house, home confinement, community center, etc.).

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in October, but is currently awaiting a full vote of the Senate. Urge the Senate to swiftly pass the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123).

Adam Waters is a 2015-2016 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. He grew up in Coral Springs, FL, and was a member of Temple Beth Orr. Adam graduated from Brown University.

Adam Waters

Published: 3/17/2016