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Juvenile and Adult Recidivism

Virginia's recidivism rate helps illustrate how well the state's programs work in keeping offenders from committing additional crimes. Making state-to-state comparisons is difficult, however, as there are usually significant differences in how states define and track recidivism measures.

Why is This Important?

Recidivism is a key indicator for determining whether criminal justice interventions, from diversion through incarceration, are making a difference in turning offenders away from crime. While there is no standard national definition or measurement of recidivism, the three most common measures include:

  • Rearrest -- being charged with a new offense.
  • Reconviction -- being found guilty of a new offense in a court of law.
  • Reincarceration -- being sentenced to a secure facility after being found guilty of a new offense.

How is Virginia Doing?

Juvenile Recidivism

Recidivism Rates for Juveniles. See text for explanation.The Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice tracks rearrest, reconviction and reincarceration for 12 months after release from a juvenile correctional center.

In 2013, rearrest occurred within one year for 46.3 percent of juveniles released from a correctional center, down from the previous year. In 2012, reconviction occurred for 40.8 percent of the juveniles who were rearrested in 2011; their reincarceration rate rose to 21.6 percent over the previous year.

Recidisvism Rate from Juvenile Probation. See text for explanation.Rearrest occurred for 33.1 percent of juveniles within one year of release from a probation placement, which is down from the previous year; reconviction rates remained the same at 25.5 percent.

Adult Recidivism

The Virginia Department of Corrections uses similar measures of recidivism for adults as is done for juveniles -- rearrest, reconviction, and reincarceration -- on a cohort of ex-offenders who are tracked for as long as 3 years. Since 2007, rearrest rates have largely declined, with 27.2 percent of offenders rearrested within 12 months of release from state incarceration in 2012, compared to 31.3 percent in 2007. Reconviction and reincarceration rates after 12 months have held fairly steady: 20.8 percent reconvicted and 4.4 percent actually reincarcerated in 2012.

Adult Recidivism within 12 Months of Release from State Incarceration. See text for explanation.Rates for rearrest and reconviction a full three years after release also appear to be holding steady, while reincarceration rates have dropped from 26.1 percent for the 2007 cohort to 22.8 percent for the 2009 group of ex-offenders -- the lowest rate on record in Virginia.

What Influences Recidivism?

Research over the past 20 years has demonstrated that certain types of widely used correctional programs -- boot camps, punishment- or control-oriented programs, non-directive psychological interventions, and self-esteem programs -- are actually not effective in combating recidivism. Provably more effective are prison programs that assess and attempt to change the root causes of criminal behavior in individual inmates: Anti-social traits in personality, attitudes, values, and associates; family dysfunction; poor self-control and problem-solving skills; substance abuse; lack of employment / employment skills.

The ability to reenter society with viable options for self-sufficiency is also a telling factor in recidivism, especially among adults. No matter how rehabilitated they are upon release, ex-offenders typically have few resources and often experience difficulty finding housing, reliable transportation, jobs, or help. The stigma attached to being an ex-offender is a major employment barrier; many are also unprepared for the world of work, lacking educational attainment, vocational training, and life skills. Frustrated by these challenges, many return to their former social circles -- and to illegal activities.

The prison system has traditionally offered little support for offenders upon their release. Even in-prison education programs have been in decline since 2000, due in part to widespread support for a more "law and order" approach to crime. Periods of economic recession have only curtailed these offerings further; according to a 2013 RAND Corporation study, overall spending nationally on prison education fell an average of 6 percent from 2009 to 2012, with much larger drops in those states with the largest prison populations.

Yet offenders of any stripe -- particularly those who have been incarcerated for long periods of time or youth who never developed life competencies -- usually require a strong network of support services to avoid repeating criminal behaviors. Indeed, most corrections professionals now regard it as a key responsiblity to maintain supportive communities in and out of prison for offenders who struggle to maintain positive personal changes.

What is the State's Role?

A new approach toward both corrections and prisoner reentry appears to be gradually developing both at the national level and in Virginia. Some of this change in attitude is due to the realization that -- despite soaring incarceration numbers and costs -- few lasting inroads for rehabilitation have been made in the overall prison system; recidivism rates are still too high and still tend to be over-represented by the same low-income and/or minority populations. The growing chorus of evidence-based studies which clearly show that punitive programs are ineffective in combatting recidivism has also been a factor.

To meet the many challenges of reentry, Virginia is developing a comprehensive approach for coordinating services among state, local, civic, nonprofit, and faith-based organizations to aid offenders during their transition ("pre-release") and reentry phases.

The Virginia Departments of Corrections and Juvenile Justice are managing the pre-release stage, which stresses the importance of long-term preparations for reentering society and includes assessments on life skills and educational attainment, with appropriate classes and training then provided to address any identified needs. The Department of Social Services (and their local departments across the state) serve as the main gateway to services post-release.

A statewide coordinator for prisoner reentry will be working out of the Virginia Attorney General's Office to better identify and address service gaps across the state and to help facilitate communications between sheriffs' departments and government agencies, including improved coordination with available workforce development and mental health services. A new statewide reentry Web portal will also aid in these efforts.

Since 2010, a Prisoner Reentry Council has worked to establish voluntary community Councils across the state to identify community assets and coverage gaps and to assist DSS in better coordination of services. As of this writing, 44 local Reentry and Community Collaboration Councils have been set up across the state; you may view a map of them here (pdf).

Page last modified June 04, 2015

Recidivism Rates After Release from Juvenile Corrections Recidivism Rates After Release from Juvenile Probation

Adult Recidivism in Virginia.

Data Definitions and Sources

Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, 2014 Data Resource Guide, Recidivism Chapter (pdf)

Virginia Department of Corrections
Recidivism at a Glance (August 2014) (pdf)
Reincarceration Rates  (pdf)

RAND Corporation study, "How Effective Is Correctional Education?", 2013

Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, IPP-Criminogenic Needs, 2006
Evidence-based Correctional Practices (pdf), Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services
Six Evidence-based Practices Proven to Lower Recidivism: Learning to trust the research,, 2010

National Institute of Justice, "'Cultural Shift' Is Among Findings of Second Chance Act Evaluation," 2014

Notes on Additional Differences in How Recidivism is Measured:

  • Variations in when recidivism tracking begins (while the offender is still in a correctional environment, or after release);
  • The length of time during which recidivism is tracked (one year, multiple years, etc.);
  • The kinds of offenses counted as recidivism (all offenses, only criminal offenses, only felonies, etc.);
  • How new qualifying offenses are characterized (must be new crimes or can be technical parole or minor violations (such as traffic infractions); and
  • How the data is obtained (juvenile system only, adult system only, both systems, different jurisdictional levels (city, county, statewide, multi-state, etc.).

See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.

At a Glance:
Juvenile and Adult Recidivism in Virginia

Performance Trend: Trend is maintaining.
State Influence:

Related Agency Measures
State Programs & Initiatives

The Virginia Department of Corrections is currently providing limited re-entry transition services through partnerships with local jails. Selected offenders are relocated from prison to a local jail in their community to receive transitioning services such as life skills workshops and assistance with housing and employment.

The Virginia Department of Social Services helps coordinate available services for ex-offenders after release from prison. Their CommonHelp benefits portal is the gateway to assistance with food, medical care, and so on.

Executive Order 41, signed by Governor McAuliffe in April 2015, mandates that state applications will no longer include the box requiring applicants to indicate whether they have a criminal record. Virginia becomes the 15th state to end this practice, although many cities and counties in the Commonwealth had already independently elected to do so.

The National Institute of Corrections (NIC) has selected Virginia to participate in Phase V of its Evidence-Based Decision Making (EBDM) Initiative. The program's overall aim -- grounded in two decades of research and data on the factors that contribute to criminal reoffending -- is to reduce behavior issues with offenders pre-trial and after release from incarceration.

Additional Information

Virginia CARES operates a statewide network of ex-offender reentry programs to provide transitional assistance, financial aid, job readiness training, temporary employment, job search and career development, human relations & self-awareness training, and ongoing support services to prisoners, ex-offenders, and their families in Virginia.

Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR) is the umbrella term for several OAR organizations in the state. Reentry advisors act as resource consultants, problem-solving facilitators, client advocates, and employment counselors, with the goal always to empower ex-offenders toward self-sufficiency.  OAR Arlington  |  OAR Fairfax  |  OAR Richmond

The national Second Chance Act offers job training, drug treatment, and other re-entry programs to help former offenders stay off the streets and out of prison. Grants through this program and from the National Governors Association have helped fund several reentry pilots in Virginia.