February 13, 2016


In the field of criminal justice, a recidivism rate expresses the number of times a person returns to prison. For example, in the state of North Carolina, approximately 25,000 inmates are released annually. Only 2% of North Carolina’s incarcerated citizens are on death row; therefore, 98% will eventually be released. In North Carolina, after 2 years back on the street, the rate of recidivism is 46%. This means that 46% of released inmates end up back in prison or jail. After 5 years, the rate of recidivism increases to 70%. Of the 25,000 inmates released annually in the state of North Carolina, 17, 500 will end up back in prison in 5 years. Nationally, approximately 70% of all released prisoners return to prison as well.

The key to reducing the rate of recidivism is providing after-care to ex-prisoners. After Care includes mentoring programs, educational and life skills programs, structured group homes, half-way houses, and residential and follow-up drug treatment programs to name a few. Unfortunately, public policy has yet to reflect the fact that prevention and after care are less costly than incarceration. Consequently, After Care programs are routinely cut or under-funded and prison building continues. Although prison programs include job training through work in prison enterprises, in many states, less than 10% of all inmates actually participate in such programs.

A free society is judged by its treatment of its prisoners and its willingness to acknowledge that an individual’s criminal activity may be directly related to societal failures. To the extent that our public policies and priorities continue to neglect the educational, psychological, and security needs of U.S. families and children, the likelihood is that the number of youth and adults who hurt themselves and/or others will increase. If sentencing practices do not change, the rate of incarceration and recidivism will increase as well.