Aren’t limited to the act by offenders itself. We also run into serious problems with its definition, as Corey Rayburn Yung discusses and links to in this post at Sex Crimes Blog. If we insist that public safety is the central focus of corrections sentencing (and leave aside whether it’s best attained through prevention, deterrence, incapacitation, all of the above, none, whatever), then recidivism is the central number we have to address. But as Corey notes, reports disagree and looking at aggregate or general numbers to the exclusion of sub-populations is dangerous when determining public policy. Some sex offenders, for instance, are horrendous recidivists while others do so so infrequently that they’re the ones responsible in part for the low overall rates that Corey discusses. And this doesn’t even get into the time frames you choose to look at (12 months, 36, lifetime?) or the act that makes you a recidivist (rearrest, technical violation of parole, reconviction). Depending on how you put these together, states and offender types can have multiple recidivism rates being thrown around at policymaking time. And, in my experience, the policymakers are not real thrilled with that. So Corey is right, as usual, in praising any effort to bring more light to the subject. The problem is, the lights need to equal what we’ll see on Sunday during the Big Game.
[Doug Berman adds some typically thoughtful commentary on Corey’s post here at Sentencing Law and Policy.]