Recidivism: Costs and Solutions Introduction

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Recidivism: Costs and Solutions

Daniel Ralphson

Western Illinois University

Recidivism: Costs and Solutions
Citizens of the United States of America enjoy an immense amount of freedom. The freedom to conduct commerce, the freedom to travel, the freedom to choose a profession, the freedom to live in the place of their choosing, the freedom to maintain privacy, the freedom to speak their mind, the freedom to participate in government, the list could continue for pages. However, the subject of this writing is not about the freedoms that most Americans enjoy. In fact, is revolves around the rather large minority of the American population that does not enjoy these freedoms. This minority group is not a racial or ethnic group, nor is it a group distinguished by their sexual orientation or gender. The group that is being referred to is the 2.3 million Americans that are incarcerated at any given time.
The incarcerated population in the United States dwarfs all others. Even nations with much larger overall populations have much lower numbers of incarcerated people. The reasons for this are many, including the much longer prison sentences given to U.S. criminal offenders, the use of incarceration as punishment for all manner of minor offenses and even democracy itself plays its role, as no politician wants to be known for being “soft on crime.” While the exact reasons for yet another area of American exceptionalism can be debated, it is a fact that such a crime control strategy cannot be sustained as it currently exists.
High U.S. incarceration rates are a relatively new phenomenon. In fact, until the mid 1970s, American incarceration rates were rather low; about 100 per 100,000. However, within the last three decades, the U.S. has managed to launch that number to 751 per 100,000 [Lip08]. As one could imagine, such a policy becomes quite expensive after a while and the U.S. now finds the financial burden too much to bear. For the first time in history, states’ expenditures on corrections are being cut and the question much be asked, what about public safety?
The crime control policy in the United States for the past several decades has been incapacitation. This theory takes notice of the overwhelming rates of criminal recidivism and takes the position that a small number of people commit the majority of crime. Therefore, if those few individuals who continue to recidivate, commonly referred to as “career criminals,” can be incarcerated, they cannot commit more crimes. This, in turn, reduces crime overall. There has been some research that has found that incapacitation does in fact reduce crime [Blu06][Kim07][Piq07]. However, such a policy is not sustainable in the long term. The examination must then turn to other means that can ensure a similar, or preferably better, level of public safety.
In such an examination, recidivism should still be a key component. The majority of people incarcerated will be re-arrested within 3 years [Lan02]. This cycle becomes increasingly expensive. The focus should switch to reducing the high levels of recidivism which will in turn lower the population of incarcerated people, thereby lowering the sharply increasing expenditures on corrections. If recidivism is reduced, this will still maintain public safety because less crime will be committed. In order to properly understand the topic of recidivism and its cost to the American corrections institution, is must be examined and analyzed through a proper academic perspective.

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