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Measuring Recidivism in the District of Columbia

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Recidivism is one of the most important concepts in criminal justice; it is a key outcome variable for determining the extent to which an agency has been able to effectively respond to the offender populations it serves, identifying the needs for more effective programs, communicating the need for increased resources, and demonstrating accountability to the public and to legislators. Despite its importance, recidivism is often defined and measured differently by different agencies, and the lack of consistency can result in difficulties in coordinating efforts across agencies to assess and respond to the issue of recidivism. To address this challenge, this study explores the possibility of standardizing the definition and measurements of recidivism. This is done by examining the recidivism of those released from the Department of Corrections (DOC) in the District of Columbia (DC) in FY07 and identifying key factors that affect their recidivism measured in three different ways – rearrest, reconviction, and reincarceration. The results show that several factors are consistent predictors of recidivism regardless of the type of recidivism event. Race, age at release, certain incarceration charges, and criminal history are associated with the recidivism among the DOC releasees. Based on these findings, this study recommends that those predictors should form the basis for developing a standardized definition and measure of recidivism, and the data on those predictors should be collected by relevant agencies and linked with a common offender identifier. Based on the study findings as well as the responses to a survey that was administered to gather information about the current recidivism measurements used by DC agencies, it can also be recommended that the definition and measurement of recidivism should be sufficiently comprehensive to accommodate diverse interests of relevant agencies. The study concludes with a discussion on future research that can facilitate further understanding of recidivism in DC and can help develop and evaluate reentry programs.