State of Recidivism
The Revolving Door of America's Prisons
Missouri Drops Recidivism Rate by Tackling Technical Violations
Recidivism State Success Stories
In early 2002, Missouri faced a dilemma familiar to many states: A jump in the prison population had stretched capacity to the limit, yet budget woes and other funding priorities meant there were no dollars to increase prison capacity. The message from the governor’s office and General Assembly was clear—no more prisons. Find another way to cope.
In response, Missouri policy makers took a hard look at what was driving their inmate population upward. Longer terms brought on by mandatory minimum sentencing were partly responsible. But the primary contributor was a steep rise in the number of parole and probation violators behind bars. The Pew/ASCA data confirm the diagnosis. In 2004, the state recorded an overall recidivism rate of 54.4 percent—the third highest among the states. Missouri also ranked highest in the proportion of released offenders imprisoned for a technical violation (40.3 percent). That factor contributed to an overall increase in recidivism in Missouri of 12 percent between 1999 and 2004.
Over the next four years, Missouri mapped out a meticulous plan for managing all but the most serious violators in the community. It began with a work group that analyzed revocations, evolved into an inter-agency team that drafted a vision and set goals, continued through a pilot project and ultimately took flight through new policies and procedures, coupled with extensive parole and probation staff training, in 2006.
Today released offenders in Missouri are subject to “e-driven supervision” (the “e” is for evidence), which uses a new risk assessment tool to categorize parolees and help set supervision levels. When violations occur, officers have a range of sanctions they may impose, from a verbal reprimand or modification of conditions, to electronic monitoring, residential drug treatment or "shock time" in jail.
"Every possible avenue is tried for that individual before we resort to sending him back to prison,” Missouri Director of Corrections George Lombardi said. “That approach is just part of our culture now."
The payoff has been dramatic: 46 percent of offenders released in fiscal year 2004, for example, were returned to prison within two years, either for a new crime or technical violation. Since then, that rate has dropped steadily, and reached a low of 36.4 percent for offenders released in fiscal year 2009.
Missouri's prison population, meanwhile, has held steady at about 30,500 inmates since 2005.
States can break this cycle of recidivism and save money by implementing evidence-based programs and policies.
"Policies aimed at reducing recidivism offer perhaps the ripest opportunities for achieving the twin goals of less crime and lower costs."