Bad Behavior or Bad Policy? Recidivism Trends in Release Cohorts 1993-2001

James A. Wilson, The Vera Institute of Justice
Bill Fletcher, Vanderbilt University

Recidivism analyses typically follow a specific cohort of released offenders over a period of time, usually between one and three years. Because most recidivism analyses focus on single release cohorts, they fail to acknowledge changing trends in success or failure over time. This study proposes to examine re-incarceration trends of all felons released from Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) jurisdiction between 1993 and the present. We include all offenders within TDOC jurisdiction including felony offenders serving sentences in prison and local jails (felony offenders in Tennessee with sentences of less than seven years may serve their time in a local facility). Thus, our analysis includes 90,000+ offenders released directly from state prisons and local jails, and who are released to parole, probation or no community supervision. Preliminary analyses suggest an increasing rate of re-incarceration over time for all released offenders except those who expire their sentences and serve no period of post-release supervision. Consistent with some national trends, it appears that increases in the use of technical violations accounts for the increases in the failure rates of later release cohorts. Given the direct and indirect costs associated with housing offenders in an institutional environment, an increasing rate of re-incarceration has strong implications for corrections and other criminal justice agencies.

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Updated 05/20/2006