Reducing recidivism

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: Prison reform.

This year we’ve brought you several stories about ongoing efforts to reform the criminal justice system. Lawmakers have held hearings, both the House and Senate have bills, and President Donald Trump has thrown his verbal support behind the effort.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Last week, President Trump hosted rapper Kanye West and former NFL star Jim Brown at the White House, where they discussed prison reform.

WEST: We have to bring jobs into America because when we make everything in China and not America, then we’re cheating on our country. And we’re putting people in positions to have to do illegal things to end up in the cheapest factory ever, the prison system.

EICHER: On Capitol Hill, many lawmakers aren’t content with only prison reform. The House has passed a bill that the Senate will not consider without also including sentencing reform—as well as tackling controversial mandatory minimums.

REICHARD: Now, amid congressional gridlock, comes a new study. It found that the best chance to rehabilitate one’s life during and after prison is to avoid antisocial peers.

But alone, it isn’t enough.

The author of the report is Grant Duwe. He’s an adviser to the American Enterprise Institute for Criminal Justice Reform. He’s also research director for the Minnesota Department of Corrections. He’s on the line now to talk about his findings.

Grant, let’s just start with the lay of the land. What’s the recidivism rate for released prisoners?

GRANT DUWE: Well, it depends on what states that we’re looking at or whether we’re looking at the federal prison system, but it’s as high as 67 percent after three years. So, a lot of individuals who get released from prison do end up failing and recidivating within a fairly short period of time.

REICHARD: And what are some of the factors associated with higher rates of return to prison?

DUWE: A number of factors can influence recidivism risk, including someone’s prior criminal history, how old someone is, whether they participated in effective programming while they were in prison, whether they’re under correctional supervision after they get released from prison, any number of these factors can have an impact on recidivism risk.

REICHARD: In your research report you also wrote about several solutions to these problems. And one has to do with how often a prisoner gets visitors? Talk about that.

DUWE: Right. So, a lot of individuals who are in prison do not get visited, and what we see is that it’s not a very effective way of rehabilitating individuals and reintegrating them after they get released from prison. 

Instead what we see is that for people who have a relatively high risk of recidivism, they maintain antisocial peers or a lot of their friends have also been involved in crime. And so when you provide someone with pro-social sources of support, it can really have a big impact on their life and help them desist from crime when they get out of prison.

REICHARD: Another solution recognizes that sometimes the inmate’s family aren’t that interested in him or her.

DUWE: Right, because what we see is that when someone gets to prison, their friends and their family members may want to have very little if nothing to do with them. And so that’s why getting visits from volunteers in the community can be really important sources of support for prisoners.

REICHARD: So, pretend that you’re addressing religious people. Would this be a place of possible ministry for them?

DUWE: Absolutely. We see, for example, that one of the most effective visits for prisoners come from clergy. But we also see, for example, that a program called Circles of Support and Accountability, which started in Canada in the 1990s in a small Mennonite community, that it really emphasizes the idea of radical Christian hospitality by reaching out to relatively high-risk sex offenders, and that’s a program that has shown to be very effective in reducing recidivism. So, I absolutely think that visiting inmates, serving as mentors can absolutely be—if people are called to do that—then it can serve a very big benefit to those who are in prison.

REICHARD: If we know social support interventions like these work, why aren’t they used more?

DUWE: For one, I think that it has to do with some of the stigma in working with individuals who are in prison. There could be fear, there could be concern, and the efforts by correctional organizations to reach out to those potential volunteers in the community have also been lacking. So, I think there just needs to be greater awareness from both correctional agencies as well as potential volunteers in the community that there are ways to serve that would be very helpful not just to the inmates but to society in general.

REICHARD: And finally I want to ask you, how should these new findings inform our lawmakers who are currently wrangling over criminal justice reform bills on Capitol Hill? What would you like for them to know?

DUWE: I think that there’s a lot of opportunity to reform our prison systems so that they are more visitor-friendly, doing things like video visitation, but also looking at some social support interventions that have been proven to be very effective and to perhaps increase the funding that we see for those could be very beneficial, too.

REICHARD: Grant Duwe is with the American Enterprise Institute. Thanks so much for talking with us today!

DUWE: Thank you!


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