Friday, February 16, 2007
The Alaska Judicial Council recently released a report entitled "Criminal Recidivism In Alaska", a 32-page report discussing the results of tracking 1,934 offenders who were convicted of at least one felony in 1999, to determine how many would re-offend, and tracking the demographic and social factors contributing to the recidivism. The Executive Summary of the report is presented below; click on the link above to view the entire report in PDF format. The Anchorage Daily News also published a story on this issue on February 13th, 2007. Image at left courtesy of CNN.
The Alaska Judicial Council is an independent citizen's commission created by the Alaska Constitution. The Judicial Council has constitutional and statutory duties in three areas:
- To screen and nominate applicants for judicial vacancies for appointment by the governor
- To evaluate the performance of judges and provide evaluation information and recommendations to voters
- To conduct research and publish reports to improve the administration of justice in Alaska
According to the report's Executive Summary, the Council followed 1,934 offenders, all of whom were charged with at least one felony in 1999 and convicted. This report more specifically focuses on the 1,798 offenders who had been out of custody for a tleast three years after serving their sentence. Specifically, the Council discovered the following:
- 66% of all offenders in the sample had been re-incarcerated at least once, for either a new offense or a probation or parole violation.
- 59% were arrested at least once for a new offense.
Recidivism rates during the three-year period varied according to demographic factors and type of offense.
- Type of offense: 67% of Property offenders were re-arrested, as compared to 61% of Driving offenders, 60% of Violent offenders, 52% of Drug offenders, and 39% of Sexual offenders.
- Factors also closely related to increased recidivism were the offender's age and indigent status. Younger offenders are more disposed to recidivism. Indigent offenders (those requiring public defenders) were more likely to re-offend than those who paid for their own counsel.
- An offender's race or ethnicity, prior criminal history, substance abuse and mental health problems were other factors increasing the chance of re-arrest. Alaska Natives and blacks showed the highest recidivism rates, followed by whites, and then Asians at the lowest rate. Those with alcohol and drug addictions, as well as those with unresolved mental health issues also showed higher recidivism rates.
Types and seriousness of new convictions:
- Youthful offenders, males and those previous convicted of a Violent offense were more likely to commit a new offense at a more serious level than their 1999 offense.
- Most offenders who were convicted of a new offense were convicted of an offense of the same or lesser magnitude than their 1999 conviction. Offenders with substance abuse problems in 1999 were less likely than others to be convicted of a more serious offense. An offender's indigency or mental health problems were not related to conviction on a more serious offense.
- Sexual offenders were the least likely to commit the same offense again; those previously convicted of Driving offenses were the most likely to commit the same offense again.
Timing of recidivism - Offenders were arrested for most of their new offense within the first year after release, particularly during the first six months after release.
In their story, the Anchorage Daily News recorded reaction from several interested people, mostly state lawmakers. Sen. Con Bunde (R-Anchorage), said nothing would persuade him to repeal a law (SB 218) adopted last year that imposes severe penalties on people convicted of sex crimes. The measure tripled sentences for offenses such as sexual abuse of a child. "How much counseling would it take you to change your basic sexuality? Some folks are just hard-wired as pedophiles," Bunde said. [Ed. Note: This is possible, just as some people may be hard-wired to be homosexuals. But wouldn't it be worth it to figure out how to "re-wire" them? Unfortunately, the gay lobby screams bloody murder whenever someone discusses "reparative" therapy.]
Rep. Anna Fairclough, an Eagle River Republican and former head of the Anchorage-based Standing Together Against Rape said sex offenders are highly intelligent people who learn how not to get caught again. "Some of these people are very, very bright. They're just very, very bad," Fairclough said.
Sen. Hollis French (D-Anchorage), a former prosecutor, said the study fails to account for the most serious criminals. The timing of the study limited it to those who served short sentences, from 1999 to about 2003.
Only a small number of the people charged with a felony in 1999 fell into those categories and were still in prison and ineligible to be counted, said Larry Cohn, the council executive director. Another limitation is that the report did not track offenders who left the state and perhaps committed crimes somewhere else. However, Cohn still defended the value of the study because the information can help policymakers and legislators focus on those offenders that recidivate the most.
An individual named Z-Man has also discussed this story on his SexOffenderIssues blog. While he takes no editorial position in his post, he links to a site expressing concern about vigilantiism against sex offenders in our society. I have previously discussed the increase of pedophilia hysteria as a result of escalating measures against sex offenders.
Conclusions: Even considering the limitations discussed by state lawmakers, certain conclusions useful for further exploration can be drawn from this study
1). Doing time must be made harder to deter offenders from looking at prison as a "refuge". The low recidivism rate among sex offenders implies that they are scared of returning to prison because they are treated with contempt and abused by fellow inmates; the "convict code" puts sex offenders on the lowest level. In addition, correctional staffing and funding must be optimized to guarantee optimal supervision of inmates.
2). Prisoners with substance abuse problems must not be released until they are "dried out". Since offenders with drug and alcohol problems are more likely to re-offend, we must free them of their addictions before release. If this means delaying a release date, then so be it.
3). Prisoners with mental health problems require follow-on support. This group must be rendered self-competent and safe for society as a condition of release. If a mental-health prisoner cannot be rendered self-competent and safe for society, then we must continue to restrict that person's access to free society in some fashion. The precise method will depend upon the offender's specific pathological profile. An ex-offender who requires medication to become functional must be provided that medication, at society's expense if necessary. And if that ex-offender willfully refuses to take that medication, then that person must be re-incarcerated.
4). Change and expand the sex offender registry to make it a total "ex-offender registry". I believe placing sex offenders on a registy may contribute somewhat to their lower recidivism rate. Why not put all ex-cons on a registry, at least for a certain period of time, as another recidivism reduction strategy and see how it works? Singling out sex offenders for special treatment may be getting out of control.
5). Provide some infrastructural support during the critical first year after release. To make it in straight society, an ex-offender needs a place to hang his hat, a regular food supply, and gainful employment to develop solid work habits, build a work resume, and rebuild self-esteem. If the ex-offender has no personal support network, it would be appropriate for society to provide these services. An ex-offender could live in a public shelter or residence hotel, eat communal meals, and, in return, perform various public-works type jobs around town. During the winter, they could remove snow from sidewalks to make a city more pedestrian-friendly. During the summer, they could perform landscaping tasks. I see able-bodied homeless in Anchorage who live in publicly-supported homeless shelters and eat publicly-funded meals standing on snow-covered sidewalks waving signs saying "Will Work For Food". Why don't they drop the sign, pick up a shovel, clear the snow off the sidewalk, and in the process, make Anchorage more pedestrian-friendly and actually EARN those free services they've been getting?
The bottom line - if we want to reduce recidivism and jump-start interrupted lives, society must take some baseline collective responsibility at some point. You can't just toss a guy out of prison at his release date, give him a cheap suit, wish him good luck, and take no interest in what happens next. That's an engraved invitation to recidivism.