Why it matters

Working together, state and local leaders, criminal justice agencies, and stakeholders can establish recidivism-reduction goals and develop practical, data-driven plans to achieve them. By establishing clear recidivism definitions and procedures for collecting, measuring, and publishing data, state and local criminal justice agencies can ensure that data is available to determine whether their recidivism-reduction strategies are achieving the desired impact.

With these practices in place, corrections and supervision agencies can be held accountable for reducing recidivism. To reach recidivism-reduction goals, corrections and supervision agencies need to hire the right staff, train them on what works to reduce recidivism, and evaluate their impact on recidivism reduction as part of performance reviews. Further, corrections and supervision staff need effective resources, including treatment, programming, and other reentry services, to help people succeed in the community. (For additional information, see Part 2, Strategy 3 on improving the effectiveness of supervision and Part 2, Strategy 4 on providing people on supervision with resources to succeed.)

What it looks like

  • Collaborate with criminal justice stakeholders to identify recidivism-reduction goals.
    • See Case Study: Massachusetts uses recidivism-reduction goals to target resources
  • Ensure data systems are in place to track outcomes and publish results.
    • See Case Study: Iowa targets recidivism-reduction efforts to people most likely to reoffend
  • Adjust strategies to achieve recidivism-reduction goals.
  • Train corrections and supervision staff on effective practices to reduce recidivism and incorporate recidivism reduction into performance evaluations.

Key questions to guide action

  • Does your state have a recidivism-reduction goal for people leaving prison? What would be an appropriate goal for your state?
  • Does your state have a recidivism-reduction goal for people starting probation supervision in a given year? What would be an appropriate goal for your state?
  • How can your state support local recidivism-reduction efforts?

Use the information that follows to inform your answers to these questions.

Additional Resources

Statewide Recidivism Reduction Grants

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Statewide Recidivism Reduction (SRR) grants are a Second Chance Act program that helps states reduce recidivism by implementing comprehensive changes to policy and practice. For example, through its SRR grant in 2015, Virginia developed state-level strategic plans to improve recidivism outcomes for people at a moderate to high risk of reoffending who return to the community after incarceration. Beginning in 2016, Nevada DOC began using its SRR grant to take a comprehensive approach to reducing recidivism by rewriting reentry-related policies, assessing correctional and community-based treatment programs for their adherence to evidence-based practices, and building staff capacity through training in core correctional practices. For additional information, see Second Chance Act Statewide Recidivism Reduction Program.

Half of states have committed to reducing recidivism through Statewide Recidivism Reduction grants.

Additional Resources

Snapshot of national progress in reentry

The National Reentry Resource Center released a brief in 2017 that highlights advancements made in state and local governments’ approaches to reentry and reducing recidivism since the passage of the Second Chance Act in 2008. It underscores the involvement of diverse constituencies and systems in these efforts, the field’s increasing understanding and application of what works to reduce recidivism, and promising recidivism outcomes in a number of states. Finally, this brief points to the critical work that lies ahead to transform systems, continue to improve reentry for people returning to the community after incarceration, and reduce recidivism in state and local jurisdictions across the country. For additional information, see Making People’s Transition from Prison and Jail to the Community Safe and Successful.

Over the last decade, seven states—Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas—experienced significant reductions in recidivism according to several different measures. These states have adopted policy changes to reduce recidivism, and various agencies and organizations in each state have been awarded Second Chance Act grants. For additional information, see Reducing Recidivism: States Deliver Results (2017).

Core correctional practices include developing relationship skills, effective use of reinforcement, effective use of disapproval, effective use of authority, prosocial modeling, cognitive restructuring, social skills training, and problem solving skills.

Case Study

Massachusetts uses recidivism-reduction goals to target resources

As recidivism reduction has become a priority for corrections agencies and state legislatures, more and more states have begun setting recidivism-reduction goals. Aiming to reduce recidivism by 10, 20, or 30 percent helps states prioritize limited resources and create benchmarks against which to measure progress. For example, in 2017, Massachusetts determined that reducing recidivism statewide by 10 percent would require an investment in behavioral health services, improvements to recidivism-reduction programs within correctional institutions, and improvements to post-release community supervision practices. The recidivism-reduction goal and the associated allocated resources helped set clear expectations and helped agencies craft plans to improve practices, training, and policies to achieve the goal.[13]

[13] The Council of State Governments Justice Center, Justice Reinvestment in Massachusetts: Policy Framework, (New York, NY: The Council of State Governments Justice Center, February 2017).

Case Study

Iowa targets recidivism-reduction efforts to people most likely to reoffend

In 2014, Iowa received a Statewide Recidivism Reduction (SRR) grant to help the state reduce recidivism for people on probation and parole who are identified as being at a moderate or high risk of reoffending. By focusing on this target population, which accounts for 38 percent of people on supervision, yet is responsible for 72 percent of the recidivism rate, Iowa aims to reduce recidivism by 20 percent after two years and 30 percent after five years.

To achieve these results, the state developed a plan to ensure statewide implementation of evidence-based practices (EBPs) shown to reduce recidivism, including improving prerelease planning; training staff; establishing a quality assurance plan; and updating workforce development policies to support the hiring, promotion, and retention of staff trained to apply EBPs. A collaborative steering committee is guiding and overseeing the implementation process.

Iowa Department of Corrections (IDOC) developed an in-house data dashboard to track performance measures at many levels: by client, unit, and case management levels; across agency or institution; or statewide measures. In adopting the data dashboard, IDOC has a more streamlined and transparent reporting process.

Through SRR, Iowa created a cost-effective approach to recidivism reduction by focusing limited resources on the most impactful programs and practices. As such, IDOC expects to see progress and recidivism reduction long after the grant concludes.