The Impact of Individual, Community, and Public Policy Factors on Recidivism in Four States: Bad People, Bad Places, or Bad Policy?
Degree awarded: Ph.D. Justice, Law and Society. American University Over the past thirty years the U.S. incarceration rate rose at an unprecedented rate, largely due to high crime rates and subsequent changes in sentencing and release policies that enhanced punishment. In the last decade as crime rates notably declined, the portion of former prisoners returning to prison remained high, and the U.S. economy tumbled into a recession, resulting in state governments scrambling to reduce the prohibitive cost of corrections. One of the reasons that recidivism has remained so intractable may be that our understanding of re-entry and recidivism have emphasized the characteristics of inmates and largely overlooked the social context of the areas to which inmates return and the policies under which they are released to the community. This research accounts for individual, community, and public policy factors in measuring the likelihood of offenders returning to prison. Using the Bureau of Justice Statistics' National Corrections Reporting Program (NCRP) data, Census of Population and Housing data, and crime data from the Uniform Crime Reports, this study follows two cohorts of inmates released from four different states to identify factors associated with returns to prison and finds that all three domains contribute to the rate of recidivism differently, and that effects vary by state and over time.