Recidivism is the repetition of an undesirable behavior even after the perpetrator has received punishment for the behavior or training to end the behavior. It also refers to the number of former prisoners who are arrested again for the same or a similar offense. Recidivism, simply stated, means ‘relapse.”
Over two-thirds of former inmates are arrested within three years of release, and 50 percent of former inmates are re-sentenced to prison. Inmates who recidivate inflict pain on themselves, their families and the victims of their crimes.
In addition, crime tends to continue inside the prison walls. Gangs and alliances are formed on the inside and often educate newcomers into new forms of criminality which the released prisoner will continue to exercise when freed.
A person’s peers, family, and community have a profound effect on whether the criminal behavior will continue or abate. A criminal record often deters employers from hiring an ex-prisoner, especially if he/she has a poor work record.
Over half of people who serve time in prison are there because of drug offenses. Without proper education and treatment, dependence will not disappear upon release. Alcohol recidivism, or the return to abusing alcohol, is common in former inmates once they are released. Even so, less than 20 percent of federal and state prisoners with a dependency problem receive treatment while they are incarcerated. Too many inmates return to prison because they have not been able to cope with their addictions. If an inmate is fortunate enough to get help upon leaving prison, he/she will greatly increase the chances of avoiding recidivism.
African Americans account for approximately half the prison population, and they have significantly higher levels of recidivism as compared to whites. They return to a community that fosters a likelihood to re-offend. They are often denied equal access to employment, health care, and other services that aid their re-entry into society. Employment for this group is especially difficult after incarceration.
Unfortunately, the focus in United States prisons is on punishment, deterrence and keeping potentially dangerous individuals away from society. This attitude does not sit well with prisoners who already have low self-esteem. Since ninety-five percent of prisoners will eventually be released back into the community, it is necessary to put forth an effort on the part of prison officials to decrease the likelihood of repeated offenses among former incarcerated persons. A combination of education, counseling, treatment, mentorship and training are necessary in order to achieve positive results.
Classes for Inmates
Fortunately, there are organizations in existence today that help ex-offenders to re-integrate into society by helping them build stable lives, obtain work skills as well as social skills, and providing emotional support. It is hard work to break the cycle of recidivism. One of these groups managed to develop an accredited Master’s Degree program for inmates in Sing Sing. Another organization has helped more than 12,000 inmates earn the equivalent of a high school degree. Helping inmates advance their education is both the right thing to do and is cost-effective. Efforts to find ways to reduce recidivism will benefit inmates and their families, taxpayers, potential employers, and communities.
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