Recidivism drop good for state

Pennsylvania was one of eight states recently recognized for making progress in reducing the number of inmates who were back in state prisons within three years of release.

A report by the Justice Center of the Council of Governments, released earlier this month, found that Pennsylvania’s recidivism rate, three years after inmates were released in 2007, was 43.9 percent.

Three years after inmates were released in 2010, that rate dropped to 40.8 percent.

“When you translate that into raw numbers, we’re talking about 500 fewer people going back to prison, which is halfway to building a new prison,” Michael Thompson, director of the justice center, said in an announcement about the report.

Results like that make it sound like we’re moving in the right direction, and we hope that’s the case.

A little more than a year ago, a benchmark report released by the state Department of Corrections indicated the need for a more comprehensive analysis when talking about recidivism.

“To get a true picture of whether our state prison is meeting its goal of reducing future crime, we need to look at more than just the reincarceration of an individual,” state Corrections Secretary John E. Wetzel said.

“We need to look at rearrests as well to see the whole picture of how and when individuals come into contact again with the criminal justice system,” he added.

A finding in the correction department’s February 2013 report, which included statistics dating back to 2000, revealed that approximately 6 of every 10 Pennsylvania inmates recidivate when recidivism is defined as being rearrested or reincarcerated within three years of being released from prison.

When the February 2013 report came out, we described the 6 out of 10 ratio as too high and unacceptable. Our position has not changed.

That’s too many inmates returning to a corrections system that failed to make a difference.

But the latest study by the Justice Center highlights efforts such as its Recidivism Risk Reduction Incentive program, commonly referred to as Triple R-I, as one of the reasons behind the drop in recidivism that study reported.

Through Triple R-I, some non-violent offenders can have their sentences reduced for good behavior and for participating in efforts aimed at reducing the risk factors that could put them back in prison.

The Justice Center’s report also credited the state for introducing performance incentives in the form of additional funds to operators of halfway houses who reduce recidivism.

Before that incentive was introduced, a study found that inmates released to halfway houses had higher rates of recidivism. Since introducing the incentive, recidivism has dropped 16 percent among residents of halfway houses.

We hope Pennsylvania is on the right track to reduce rearrests and reincarceration.

The cost of our state’s correction system has burgeoned to more than $2 billion annually at a time when state revenue is down. We need alternatives to reincarceration and so do some inmates.