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?
In 2014, rearrest occurred within one year for 49.1 percent of juveniles released from a correctional center, down from the previous year. In 2013, reconviction occurred for 44.0 percent of the juveniles who were rearrested in 2012; their reincarceration rate rose to 23.0 percent over the previous year.
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. Rearrest rates have risen slightly since their low of 27.0 percent in 2011. In 2013, 28.4 percent of offenders were rearrested within 12 months of release from state incarceration, compared to 27.3 percent the year before. Reconviction and reincarceration rates after 12 months have declined, however: Just 16.6 percent were reconvicted and 4.3 percent actually reincarcerated in 2013.
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. Extensive study has shown that prison programs are considerably more effective when they 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. Another key is to also address the high rate of mental problems and illnesses among offender populations.
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 responsibility 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 has been 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.
A related movement called the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), begun in the 1990s as a pilot program, has grown to encompass 300 jurisdictions in 40 states, including Virginia. Here the emphasis is on avoiding detention during pre-trial and other phases, as well as looking for community-based alternatives to correctional detention, as numerous studies have shown that incarceration only tends to further alienate young offenders from society at large and harden law-breaking behaviors.
To meet the many challenges of adult and juvenile incarceration and reentry, Virginia is developing a comprehensive approach for coordinating services among state, local, civic, and nonprofit organizations to aid offenders during all phases of their legal and correctional experiences -- and to reduce recidivism rates further.
Data Definitions and Sources
Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, 2015 Data Resource Guide (pdf)
Virginia Department of Corrections
Recidivism at a Glance (August 2014, pdf)
Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, Annie E. Casey Foundation
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, www.correctionsone.com, 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.