Recidivism is a dirty word. Concretely it describes those who are imprisoned for a crime, serve time, and get out only to end up back behind bars. In the abstract it represents failure on a number of levels, not least of which is the failure of our current system to properly address and curtail criminal behavior.
Those familiar with my work here might recall that I examined this problem from a number of angles during my last tenure here. Once More, Rehabilitation Urged Over Incarceration, Recidivism May Be Worse Than We Think, and Education Based Incarceration in Southern California to name a few. Those were written in mid to late 2010 so it’s time to take a look at what changes may have occurred over the past year.
One positive step forward comes to us in the form of a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation:
The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s new report, No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration assembles a vast array of evidence to demonstrate that incarcerating kids doesn’t work: Youth prisons do not reduce future offending, they waste taxpayer dollars, and they frequently expose youth to dangerous and abusive conditions. The report also shows that many states have substantially reduced their juvenile correctional facility populations in recent years, and it finds that these states have seen no resulting increase in juvenile crime or violence. Finally, the report highlights successful reform efforts from several states and provides recommendations for how states can reduce juvenile incarceration rates and redesign their juvenile correction systems to better serve young people and the public.
As I had predicted then, the accumulation of evidence causes the conclusion to become clearer and clearer: simple incarceration simply does not work. Brian Zumhagen writes on the WNYC News Blog that the empirical evidence from New York supports these findings:
Over the past decade, New York City has reduced the number of kids it sends to upstate facilities by more than 60 percent, according to New York City’s Probation Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi.
At the same time, he says, the number of serious felony arrests for city juveniles has declined by more than 25 percent.
Rehabilitation, not incarceration, is the key.
In my next blog post I’l be taking a look at the current situation in Texas, where they stopped locking up juvenile offenders for non-felony crimes back in 2007.