After being released from prison, the vast majority of offenders have difficulty staying on a law-abiding path. According to a 2018 U.S. Bureau of Justice report, approximately 68% of prisoners released from state prison in 2005 were arrested within three years, 79% within six years, and 83% within nine years.
What accounts for this high recidivism rate? Studies indicate that numerous complex factors are at play, including overlapping economic, psychological, educational, and sociological issues. Let’s take a brief look at the four most influential factors according to recent research.
Numerous studies have demonstrated a link between mental illness and recidivism. For example, according to a recent study in Population Health, the healthier an offenders’ mental state while in prison, the lower the recidivism rate after their release. Recidivism rates are even higher for people who suffer from both mental illness and substance abuse.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that many offenders with mental illnesses don’t receive the treatment they need, whether in prison or following their release. Some studies have indicated that this failure to provide adequate treatment may well contribute to psychiatric problems and social isolation that lead to criminal acts.
Released offenders who suffer from substance abuse problems are also more likely to slide back into criminal behavior, particularly if they receive inadequate treatment for their problem. According to the American Psychological Association, several studies have revealed that offenders who receive treatment for drug abuse while in prison and afterward are more likely to stay out of jail and remain employed.
Studies have also repeatedly indicated that unemployed released offenders at higher risk for recidivism. For example, a 5-year study by the Indiana Department of Corrections found that “an offender’s education and post-release employment were significantly and statistically correlated with recidivism, regardless of the offender’s classification.” But mere employment is not enough to reduce recidivism rates–research also shows that offenders with a stable or high-quality job have the best chance of staying on the straight and narrow.
Former offenders are also more likely to commit new offenses if they return to a social circle or lifestyle that has negative influences. A 2005 study in Criminal Justice and Behavior showed that prisoners who engaged in a “Lifestyle Change Program” after their release were significantly less likely to be arrested or incarcerated. However, this change is one of the most challenging to effectuate as most people have few other options except to return to those communities that they know after being released from prison.