ATLANTA (AP/WCCO) — More than 40 percent of ex-cons commit crimes within three years of their release and wind up back behind bars, despite billions in taxpayer dollars spent on prison systems that are supposed to help rehabilitate them, according to a study released Wednesday.

The study by the Pew Center on the States concluded there was only marginal improvement in the nation’s recidivism rate even as spending on corrections departments has increased to about $52 billion annually from around $30 billion a decade ago.

About 43 percent of prisoners who were let out in 2004 were sent back to prison by 2007, either for a new crime or violating the conditions of their release, the study found. That number was down from 45 percent during a similar period beginning in 1999.

The stubborn recidivism rates are a sign the programs and policies designed to deter re-offenders were falling short, and lawmakers should consider alternative sentences for nonviolent offenders, said Adam Gelb of the center’s Public Safety Performance Project.

“We know so much more today than we did 30 years ago when prisons became the weapon of choice in the fight against crime,” he said. “There are new technologies and new strategies that research has shown can make a significant dent in return to prison rates. There are fewer and fewer policymakers who think that spending more taxpayer money to build more prisons is the best way to reduce crime.”

Others were skeptical of sentencing reform efforts. The president of the National District Attorneys Association said legislators shouldn’t be too quick to abandon tough-on-crime policies in favor of alternative sentencing. Those initiatives only save money in the short-term, New Hampshire prosecutor Jim Reams said.

“The assumption is that these are all choir boys at the prison and if we let them out, all will be well. And it doesn’t work that way,” Reams said. “We’re getting exactly what we deserve when we do this — we’re getting more crime.”

The Pew report found that of 33 states that reported data for both 1999 and 2004 releases, recidivism rates fell in 17 states and climbed in 15 states. One state reported no change.

Gelb cautioned that corrections departments alone aren’t to blame — prosecutors, courts, probation officers and faith-based organizations also should be held accountable.

Wyoming and Oregon had the lowest overall recidivism rates for offenders released in 2004, with rates hovering below 25 percent. Minnesota had the highest — more than 61 percent — while Alaska, California, Illinois, Missouri and Vermont all topped 50 percent.

However, the Minnesota Department of Corrections says the Pew Survey Statistics are misleading and is asking for a correction.

According to the department, the national study is “painting an inaccurate picture of Minnesota’s corrections system.”

Minnesota Commissioner of Corrections Tom Roy said combining technical violations, such as the use of alcohol, with stats on new crimes is misleading and that is what the Pew study has done.

He said, “in reality, nearly three-quarters of the offenders released from our custody do not commit new felonies that land them back in prison in a three-year period.”

The recidivism rate in Kansas dropped by more than 22 percent between 1999 and 2004, while it jumped by about 35 percent in South Dakota over the same period.

The 41 states that provided data for 2004 could save a combined $635 million in one year if they can slash their recidivism rates by 10 percent, the study found. California, the home of the nation’s largest prison system, could save $233 million in one year by slashing its recidivism rate by 10 percent.

The Pew results were similar to a 2002 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, but they only tracked a sample of offenders in a few states. The Pew Center said its study, coordinated with the Association of State Correctional Administrators, was the first to provide state-level data from most of the nation’s corrections systems.

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

WCCO’s Chad Hartman Interviews Tom Roy

Comments (29)
  1. Isnt It Ironic says:

    Would it not be more cost effective to just shoot them, vs. $1,000 for trail followed by $65,000 for jail, then $10,000 a year for SSI?

  2. Victim Du Jour says:

    Minnesota is making criminals out of everyone for the Unions. And them they can’t find work, when they get out.

  3. Matt says:

    Have any of your toured a prison? If you are down on your luck it’s the place to be, yeah you give up some freedom, but you have TV, internet, books, free food.

    I wonder what the Recidivism Rate of the criminals in the tent prisons in Arizona is.

  4. Kristin says:

    Maybe it is just that our public servants are real good at their jobs? We ask them to stop crime and it sounds like they are doing just that. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. We do however, need better transitional services so that individuals can prove that they have rehabilitated and gain a supportive history in finding employment and housing. Too often individuals that have done their time are unable to create a new, positive life in the community. On the other hand, life is tough and individuals need to choose to work hard and stay straight. It’s a double-edged sword I guess, with no easy answers.

  5. ohoh says:

    HI Kristin, perhaps you missed the part in the article where Minnesota is the highest in recidivism, that means we have the highest RETURN rate to prison, not the lowest. Prisons have the best llbrary system, they recieve NEW Computers every year, the old ones go the the public schools. If they want a sex change we pay for it. State of the art workout areas, clean clothes, clean facility, all the TV they want…no work required. come on what’s not to love, when the alternative is to get off your ass and get educated and get a job. These thugs need to get up at 5 am eat breakfast and break big rocks into little rocks all day long, period.

    1. Ben says:

      Wow you have absolutely no understanding of how the prisons work. Maybe do some research before you comment on something like this. Kind of like thinking before you talk. The reason our recidivism rate is so high in MN is because we as a society don’t give ex offenders a chance to rehabilitate. Nobody will hire them especially when jobs are hard to come buy as it is and there are 20 other people applying for that job. Obviously there are gonna be people that are just genuinely bad people and they belong where they are but many would change if given the proper opportunity.

    2. Ben says:

      Wow you have absolutely no understanding of how the prisons work. Maybe do some research before you comment on something like this. Kind of like thinking before you talk. The reason our recidivism rate is so high in MN is because we as a society don’t give ex offenders a chance to rehabilitate. Nobody will hire them especially when jobs are hard to come buy as it is and there are 20 other people applying for that job. Obviously there are gonna be people that are just genuinely bad people and they belong where they are but many would change if given the proper opportunity. Oh and “ohoh,” grow a pair and put a real name in next time. We can still see your ignorance!

    3. anonymous says:

      Norway has one of the lowest crime rates and has one of the lowest suicide rates in the world and the prisons there are MUCH nicer there than the prisons here. it has more to do with the people than the prisons

  6. Lower Middle Class man says:

    Minnesota #1 again – Lucky us!!!! My guess is it would be even higher but some of the other 39% were probaly dead withing 3 years of getting out. Rehabilitation is a JOKE – A waste of tax payer money. I’d say a $0.02 22 cal round to the back of the head is a much better use of our tax money

  7. Mark from St. Paul says:

    Finally we’re #1 in something. It will be a while before the State of Collaspe (bridges, sports teams, sports figures, politians) produces another champion

  8. Bob says:

    Can we send them to Iraq? Even if they decide to not fight our battle, they can be nuisance to them instead.

  9. Michele says:

    Hey, Bob, do you realize how many prisoners were once veterans?

    As to having the best facilities, that is not always true. And counseling is usually only provided for those on disability. And when they get out, they return to the same conditions they left. They can’t get housing, they can’t get decent work, they can’t get medical help. Oh, and where they CAN live is usually around other parolees. No wonder they end up back in jail. They get kicked while they’re down. (Ever felt like that yourself?)

    A deputy sheriff once remarked to me that when the weather turns colder, parolees will intentionally commit crimes, just so they’ll have a roof over their heads when it turns cold. That could be another reason Minnesota’s recidivism rate is so high.

  10. TW says:

    MN NICE, liberal education system or Catholic/Lutheran guilt makes it so hard for us to knock some heads. This high rate of recidivism starts out in the formative years. We have a spoiled and coddled population of young folks who never really get told NO in a way they respect. Flip the calendar ahead twenty years and the ones who chose to live La Vida Loca just think their party goes on as long as they don’t get caught again. Now I am an expert because I know all the words to Folsom Prison Blues and I saw The Shawshank Redemption.

  11. Andy says:

    Speaking as an EX-CON. the biggest problem that MN has is pretty much what Ben said… Criminals get out and cant find work to feed themselves or their familys. I was lucky in the fact that i got a job. i also am lucky in the fact that when my employer found out about my past that my work ethic spoke for itself and i wasn’t terminated for failure to disclose that info. But how many employers would have fired me. and how many guys dont get so lucky… My guess is about 50%. society itself needs to figure out how to give all those coming out of prison a chance. thais way we only send back the truely bad apples. after all here i am almost 4yrs later and still no new charges.

    1. ohoh says:

      You speak as though the people coming out of prison were born there, they put themselves there in the first place. I go back to my earler comment, only with one change, The first time some brat decides to break the law, put in juvi where they get up at 5 am and break big rocks into little rocks all day period.
      They may decide to stay in school when they get out. It is not the fault of society, it is not my fault, they want to steal, hurt, do drugs, it is their decision.

  12. Calli Arcale says:

    I think it would be interesting to get a breakdown not just on the overall recidivism rate but the rate for various crimes — and whether they are reoffending with the same crime or another. There is a very plausible notion that sending people to prison for nonviolent offenses *increases* the risk of recidivism by a) ruining their ability to make a decent living outside of prison and b) taking petty criminals and turning them into gangsters by forcing them to spend lots of vulnerable time in close quarters with gang members. I’m quite sure the situation is a lot more complicated than “MN has the highest recidivism rate, therefore sentencing reform is a failure”.

  13. Cache says:

    It happens because of MN’s idiot bleeding heart justice system…where they start young and only use the catch and release program breeding and growing criminals to bigger and bigger crimes until they kill someone. i.e. The cop killer a few years ago who was arrested 184 times before he killed…that is the catch and release nonsense…

  14. X says:

    I don’t believe in prisons. Prisons simply don’t work.
    If a person needs to be kept from society, eliminate the individual and that person won’t be affecting society.

    If the person can be in society, let them be in society.

    Also, refine the legal system so that from the time of sentencing to carrying out the sentence have a maximum of 30 days.

    No years and years in prisons waiting for appeal afer appeal after appeal.

  15. merks says:

    Just another example on how we throw money at a problem with no viable solutions. so we keep throwing more money into the money pit
    Maybe it’s time for solutions because all the money in the world isn’t working.

  16. tickedoff says:

    I am a landlord in the city and when an individual leaves prison, guess what, section 8 picks up the tab on their housing indefinately. I don’t know about health care or anything else. Also, when a criminal goes to jail, their family receives money from the state. After all once the drug dealer goes to jail how is his family of illigitimate children supposed to survive. so we pay as though this oaf actually ever brought home a check

  17. James says:

    Keep them in jail, the recidivism rate will be 0%. Perfect opportunity to reconstruct the Metrodome into a state prison, fill it with cages and then fill it with water. Flush and repeat.

    Then put up a few pole lights and rent some land from a farmer in outskirts North Dakota and move the vikings to Fargo.

  18. T-Rock says:

    Wow, some of you people are the most insensitive and irrational people I have ever seen. Did read correctly that someone is recommending killing prisoners instead of dealing with the issue? That kind of attitude is uncalled for, and you should be ashamed of yourself.

    One way to unclog our prisons is to legalize marijuana. Its a harmless drug (much less harmful than booze), and nearly all those incarcerated for weed are non-violent offenders. It simply doesn’t make sense to lock up potheads.

    Another solution to this problem is mandatory psychological counseling for ALL violent offenders. What we are doing now is simply not working. We cannot continue to live in a police state. I have a feeling this problem will eventually correct itself, since our prison system is broke.

    1. silly says:

      Why put anyone in jail? Why make anything a crime? Problem solved. Have all the free counseling you want. oh wait it isn’t free is it society must pay for it. Crime isn’t free either, you talk of legaizing maryjane? well that is the introductory drug to all others, but if we just make all drugs legal hey no prob for you, right T-rock. The problem isn’t couseling, it is the destruction of the traditional family, it leads to an undisciplined uneducated , populace. that is why there are more blacks in prison then other groups. the black community has to deal with these problems, but will they? nope too busy smokin dope.

  19. JC says:

    I say put them in prison ONCE. Make them work for their food (grow it or raise it) no free college educations, no tv, no perks. Then when they have served the time…they get out. If they get themselves in trouble again…thats it…shoot em. And dont start in on me for being insensitive or uneducated about crime husband is in trouble right now and facing jail time for his stupid behavior and I STILL think this is the way it should be.

  20. Murph says:

    Ah ,let me see here,three square meals,exercize,library,movie night and butt buddies.Maybe the unrepentive poor dumb bunnies need a litlle change in the situation.YA THINK!.There are potholes to be filled,leaves to be raked,sand bags to be tossed and retrieved.There are more than a few positive things that have to be done! So…. WHAT IS THE PROBLEM??? Let’s kinda dwell on what is and what isn’t happening to allieviate this problem here.Also why not be a little less Minnesota nice to those who don’t deserve it.Like give them a one way ticket to any place but here if they agree to NOT COMEBACK! Then double their sentence IN SOLITARY if they break the agreement! Get rid of them once and for all!! Not so hard..IS IT????

  21. Deputy Dawg says:

    Working in the field, I know that the majority of criminals have never worked a day in their life, and that is before they were convicted and sent to prison! Using the excuse that there are no jobs available when they get out is not a viable excuse. There are plenty of poor who don’t commit crime, but using poverty as an excuse only enables the criminal to continue with their lifestyle. Another part of the problem is Minnesota doesn’t follow mandatory sentencing guidelines. Also, if someone is sentenced it is only for two-thirds the time, minus what was spent in county jail.

    I have come across several convicted felons in possession of a firearm, which is supposed to be a five year mandatory sentence, that only do nine months to a year at the county workhouse. Of these, I know of at least five that committed violent felonies, including murder, within months of being released. That is not over my entire tenure nor statewide, but during the year 2006 in Hennepin County alone.

    Government officials and community leaders calling for peace will not help solve the problem. Perhaps you sheople (sheep + people) out there need to realize evil does exist in some, and these wolves will continue to prey on you until they are locked up permanently or eventually die. In the meantime, continue to graze in the pastures of ignorance while vigilant sheep dogs watch over you.

    Thank a law enforcement professional today.

  22. Michele says:

    Deputy Dawg, maybe it’s time for you to find another line of work, when you exhibit such superiority and contempt for the taxpayers you serve.

  23. Adam says:

    It is the damn fact that the justice system is so corrupt that they trump up charges all the time. Ive seen this all the time in Anoka county, you go in there for breaking something, you come out with a 5 year dumb a$$ probational period.. You idiots dont seem to realize, that the more people that are thrown into prisons; the more the county makes. About $1000.00 per inmate, per day.. So do you really think that the courts are “helping” people??? Would you give up a free meal?? Didnt think so..