Pew Study Shows Evidence-Based Reforms Reduce Recidivism 

A new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that recidivism rates — the tendency of a formerly incarcerated person to re-offend upon release from prison — dropped in states that adopted evidence-based reforms.

Reducing the recidivism rate is key to increasing public safety, reducing crime, saving taxpayer dollars, and rebuilding lives. To achieve reduced recidivism, some states in recent years began implementing evidence-based policies that use data and real-world outcomes to inform programs focused on re-entry into society.

Pew looked at data from 23 states that reported reliable data to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics and found that:

  • Among prisoners released in those states in 2005, 48 percent returned to prison by 2008.
  • Of prisoners released from the same states in 2012, only 37 percent had recorded at least one re-admission.

Do the math, and the difference ends up amounting to drop in recidivism of nearly 23 percent — thanks, at least in part, to the evidence-based policies and programs launched in recent years.

Recidivism is most commonly measured using the three-year period after release. But Pew also found that recidivism rates fell during the five-year period after release, known as the long-term recidivism rate. Prisoners released from those same 23 states in 2010 were 13 percent less likely to return to prison within five years than those released in 2005.

Experience in several states has shown that evidence-based prison reforms are an effective tool in reducing recidivism rates. A 2014 report by the National Reentry Resource Center highlighted Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia, in particular.

“While specific approaches may vary across states, programs should be based on the best available science and research,” the center said. “Studies show that implementing evidence-based programs and practices can reduce reoffense rates by 10 to 20 percent.”

  • Pennsylvania: Officials have been using evidence-based practices since 2006. Comparing 2007 prison releases with 2010 releases, the recidivism rate dropped more than 7 percent.
  • North Carolina: Probation officers receive monthly trainings in evidence-based practices. The recidivism rate dropped 19.3 percent, comparing 2006 releases and 2010 releases.
  • Georgia: Implemented “The Ten Step Framework” in 2009, which used evidence-based interventions and programs, and saw a 10 percent drop in the recidivism rate.

What’s more, Pew also found that the decrease in recidivism occurred alongside a long-term reduction in crime. Its analysis of FBI crime statistics showed that the combined national violent and property crime rate dropped 26 percent from 2005 to 2015.

“Reducing recidivism improves public safety, reduces taxpayer spending on prisons, and helps formerly incarcerated people successfully resume family and community responsibilities,” Pew said. “But a lack of data has complicated efforts to understand the aggregate effects of myriad federal, state, and local efforts to reduce reoffending. This analysis shows that meaningful improvements in recidivism are occurring.”