Unacceptable Recidivism
The Problem:
Most Offenders are Repeat Offenders

    This chart is one of many ways of looking at the problem of recidivism.  Of the people jailed in Portland for this month for the listed offenses (center column),  anywhere from 40% to 95% had been in jail in Portland for something within the previous 12 months (right hand column).  And of the misdemeanor assaults, which account for the lowest apparent recidivism, many had been subject of previous “family beef” police calls that did not result in arrest.

Portland Police Statistics for Jailed Suspects
For Persons Arrested During July 2000

Number jailed this month
Of those jailed this month, the number
also jailed within the last year in Portland
Felony Assault
Theft I
Felony Drug
Theft II
Misdemeanor Assault
Motor Vehicle Theft
 Source: Portland Police Bureau Data Processing, August 25, 2000
    A more recent Multnomah County project, made possible by our “DSS-Justice” data warehouse, revealed that “4% of our offenders accounted for 23% of [s]tandard  bookings between 1995 and 1999.”  The Booking Frequency Pilot Project In Multnomah County, Oregon: A Focus On Process And Frequencies, at i (The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, Dan Noelle, Sheriff, In collaboration with the Multnomah County Department of Community and Family Services, Department of Community Justice, Health Department, and Corrections Health Division (January 2002)).
     This is hardly unique to Portland.  Other measures typically place recidivism in the range of 60-75%.  For example, a fairly recent Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report recited “Of the 108,580 persons released from prisons in 11 States in 1983, an estimated 62.5% were rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within 3 years, 46.8% were reconvicted, and 41.4% returned to prison or jail.”  These and similar findings were included in a more recent compendium of statistics from that Bureau, which recited that "More than 7 of every 10 jail inmates had prior sentences to probation or incarceration,” and “272,111 offenders discharged in 1994 accounted for nearly 4,877,000 arrest charges over their recorded careers.”
    A recent English study found that of nearly 10,000 prisoners, 84% had prior arrests; another concluded that "58% of those released from prison are
convicted of a new offense within two years," and "[f]or prisoners aged under 21, two-year reconviction rates following imprisonment for offences such as
burglary, theft, and handling stolen property are over 80 per cent."  The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that  “[m]ore than 60% of offenders in prison at the time of the 1994 Census had been imprisoned at some time previously” with a high of 78% for “break and enter” offenders. The New Zealand Ministry of Justice reports that “over two-thirds (70%) of [studied prison] inmates had more than 10 convictions prior to being imprisoned” and “nearly two-thirds (65%) of inmates imprisoned for a violent offence were reconvicted within two years of their release, and over three-quarters (79%) were reconvicted within five years. These proportions are a little lower than those for all inmates released.”  The National Crime Prevention Centre of the Department of Justice of Canada reports “approximately 75% to 80% of incarcerated adults were persistent offenders in their youth.”  A study for the Canadian Solicitor General compared recidivism among child molesters with that of other offenders and reported that  “long-term recidivism rates for the child molesters were . . . 61 percent versus 83.2 percent” for other criminals.   Hanson, R. K., Scott, H., & Steffy, R. A.,  A comparison of child molesters and nonsexual criminals : Risk predictors and long-term recidivism. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 32(3), 325-337 (1995).

    Although lower recidivism rates are often published by correctional agencies, they generally reflect a definition of recidivism that excludes misdemeanors and the more common crimes of lower level assaults (including most domestic violence), most thefts, most drunk driving, and thereby the great bulk of crimes that justly anger our constituencies.  In any event, we see the repeaters repeatedly, and we have a responsibility to make our best effort to reduce their criminal behavior when they appear before us for sentencing.