Thanks partly to greatly expanded rehabilitation and treatment programs, Texas sent 11 percent fewer ex-convicts back to prison in recent years a significant drop in recidivism that is being replicated across the country, according to a new study.
The study, to be released today by the Council of State Governments' Justice Center project, shows that Texas' recidivism rate -- the number of felons who return to prison within three years after they are discharged or paroled -- posted the double-digit drop for prisoners released in 2007.
Between 2000 and 2007, the recidivism rate dropped 22 percent, according to the report.
"The numbers are significant, but the real impact is fewer crime victims," said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, an architect of reforms starting in 2007 that greatly expanded rehabilitation and treatment programs. "For every person who doesn't go back to prison, there is one fewer crime, one fewer crime victim."
The report generally hails the dropping recidivism rates as proof that the emergence of additional rehabilitation and treatment programs is working, even as some criminologists note that the average age of offenders is rising -- and older people tend to commit fewer crimes than younger ones.
"As policymakers are under tremendous pressure to cut spending wherever possible, Republican and Democratic elected officials alike have made the case that improved efforts to reduce reoffense rates among people released from prison would save money and increase public safety," the report states. "Many states are now presenting data that indicates declines in statewide recidivism rates."
In Michigan, which has been working on new treatment and re-entry initiatives since 2003, the recidivism rate dropped by 18 percent between 2005 and 2007. In Kansas, which has been expanding treatment and rehab programs since 2004, the drop was 15 percent. Ohio and Vermont posted an 11 percent drop. In Mississippi, the rate dropped 9 percent. In Oregon, 8 percent.
For Texas, the 11 percent drop meant that 1,212 fewer felons came back to prison -- one of several reasons the state's prison population has continued to decline. Most other states' prison systems are a fraction of the size of Texas'. Even a small drop in Texas' recidivism rate can mean big cost savings for taxpayers, as prison costs continue to spiral.
"While the decline is significant, as is the state's low recidivism rate relative to other states, we realize there is more work to be done," said Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. "In order to sustain our momentum, continued investment in offender rehabilitation is critical."
In the past five years, Texas has greatly expanding drug and alcohol treatment programs, and re-entry initiatives.
Parole rates are up and parole revocations are down, again thanks to programs that aim to ensure that felons can successfully reintegrate into society while maintaining public safety, said House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, another architect of the expanded programs.
"These numbers are extremely significant because they verify what we've already known -- that these new programs are working, not just here but around the country," Madden said.
Whitmire said the report will be fodder for debate during the legislative session that begins in January, underscoring a caution among legislative leaders not to cut funding for such programs for fear of "tampering with a system that is working."
"We're saving millions and millions of dollars with these programs," Whitmire said. "There's nothing tougher on crime, and better for public safety, than ensuring that people who get out of prison don't commit new crimes."
(c)2012 Austin American-Statesman, Texas