Reducing recidivism is a public safety imperative | Brookings Institution

The legislative landscape in the is a bit more complicated. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123) sailed out of the Judiciary Committee last fall, with the full-throated support of Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Committee Chairman and Ranking Member. The bill is cosponsored by senators spanning the ideological gambit from conservative firebrand Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) to Democratic whip Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). Shortly after the bill emerged from committee, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) led a small but fervent group of Republican lawmakers to oppose the bill. Although the senators’ key objections are certainly subject to interpretation, concerted opposition in the upper chamber temporarily stymied legislative momentum.


At the end of last month, proponents breathed new life into the bill, announcing revisions to certain sentencing provisions and the support of six additional senators—two Republicans and four Democrats—and the influential National District Attorney Association. Largely absent from the national conversation, however, are the bill’s extensive provisions to reduce recidivism and promote successful prisoner re-entry.


In addition to holding individuals who commit crimes accountable, correctional facilities should work hard to rehabilitate individuals and prepare them to rejoin society. Currently, the nation’s astronomical rates of recidivism indicate that correctional facilities are failing to equip prisoners with tool for successful re-entry. Given that the vast majority of incarcerated individuals will one day be released, ensuring that correctional facilities have the resources to rehabilitate incarcerated individuals is a public safety imperative.


According to estimates by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, over a quarter of individuals released from state prison are rearrested within six months. As the figure below illustrates, recidivism rates increase steadily after each additional year of release; after five years, more than seventy five percent of formerly incarcerated individuals have been rearrested. This striking trend is consistent across demographic categories.


Proponents of reform are cautiously optimistic about prospects for a sweeping statutory overhaul to the federal prison system by the end of the 114th Congress. Several bills, including the Recidivism Reduction Act of 2016 (H.R. 759) and the Sentencing Reform Act (H.R. 3713), have passed the Judiciary Committee, earning the support of Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (VA-6) and Ranking Member John Conyers (MI-13). House Speaker Paul Ryan has embraced criminal justice reform and pledged to bring reform legislation to the floor for a vote this Congress.



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