Over the past decade, recidivism reduction has become a priority for most state and local correctional agencies. But, states cannot know the impact of those efforts if they do not measure recidivism. Unfortunately, most states still do not collect and analyze recidivism metrics in a comprehensive or timely enough fashion to use the data to improve practices.
Currently, recidivism metrics fall short in three ways:
- Nearly all states track and publish recidivism for people leaving prison, but 32 use a narrow definition of recidivism that only includes reincarceration, not rearrests and reconvictions. All three measures are necessary to capture the scope of recidivism.
- Most states focus narrowly on people released from prison without consideration for the much larger probation population. Only 11 states collect and publish any measure of recidivism for the millions of people starting probation supervision each year.
- Most states report on recidivism at two- or three-year intervals rather than using measures that permit more timely analysis about whether recidivism-reduction efforts are working. Only 29 states track and publish both probation and parole revocations to prison, which enable more month-to-month and year-to-year reporting.
To ensure that state and local leaders, criminal justice stakeholders, and the public are aware of recidivism figures and that correctional agencies are held accountable for those results, recidivism information needs to be tracked and published. A small number of states report on recidivism defined as more than reincarceration, across a broad correctional population, and with a frequency that allows for useful analysis of recidivism-reduction practices. By doing so, these states have been able to measure and report significant reductions in recidivism.
States can be better positioned to understand and positively impact recidivism trends by taking the following steps:
- Action Item 1: Track and publish multiple measures of recidivism.
- Action Item 2: Expand recidivism tracking to include the probation population.
- Action Item 3: Use measures that permit more timely analysis in addition to cohort-based measures.
- Action Item 4: Set recidivism-reduction goals for all people leaving prison and people on probation.
Almost all states can improve tracking and reporting on recidivism data.
Select a state from the drop-down menu to see what recidivism data your state tracks and reports.
Three-year recidivism rates, 2005–2014
People Released from Prison
People Starting Probation
View the video to learn more about using data to drive recidivism-reduction strategies.
The Council of State Governments Justice Center 50-State structured interviews, August 2017. Correctional agencies may track recidivism data without publishing it. The information in this report focuses on published data.
Reincarceration can be the result of both criminal and non-criminal behavior (e.g, incarceration for certain supervision violations), and generally refers to prison incarceration. Incarceration is the costliest criminal justice response available to states, and it also generates a significant financial burden for local jurisdictions, which are often responsible for incarcerating people whose supervision has been revoked.
Rearrest is perhaps the broadest measure of recidivism. Because not all arrests result in a conviction, this metric may suggest there is more recidivism than there actually is. It is still an important measure of the volume of people returning to courts and county jails, however, as well as the most comprehensive indicator of a person’s interaction with the criminal justice system.
Reconviction provides clear evidence that new criminal activity has been committed by someone with prior involvement in the criminal justice system.