Using Time to Reduce Crime: Federal Prisoner Survey Results Show Ways to Reduce Recidivism
Date:  06-07-2017

Families Against Mandatory Minimums survey offers valuable information to lawmakers
From the Introduction of Using Time to Reduce Crime: Federal Prisoner Survey Results Show Ways to Reduce Recidivism:

Ninety-six percent of federal prisoners are eventually going to leave prison and rejoin society. Those of us concerned about protecting public safety should support policies and programs that are proven to reduce the likelihood that returning citizens will reoffend. Indeed, all Americans have an interest in making sure that people come out of prison better than they went in.

Reducing recidivism is an extremely important goal, but accomplishing it will not be easy. The most recent study of recidivism among federal offenders found that almost one-half (49.3%) of the offenders released in 2005 were rearrested for a new crime or rearrested for a violation of supervision conditions within eight years of their release. Almost one-third (31.7%) of the offenders were also reconvicted, and one-quarter (24.6%) of the offenders were reincarcerated over the same period. Nearly identical recidivism rates were found for federal drug trafficking offenders in particular, who are the largest category of federal prisoners and the largest group of people sentenced annually in federal courts.

Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), and Congress all have taken steps recently to address recidivism. Whether DOJ and BOP will follow through on plans announced in late 2016 will likely depend on the new administration. Such plans include developing individualized reentry plans for all federal inmates; expanding educational, employment, substance abuse, and mental health programming; and helping prisoners build and maintain family relationships. In the meantime, leaders in Congress have already announced their intention to introduce prison reform legislation modeled on bipartisan bills approved by both the Senate and House Judiciary Committees in 2016.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) has long believed that one key to reducing recidivism is to make sure prisoners do not serve longer than is absolutely necessary to ensure public safety. Put simply, we believe the best reentry program is a right-sized sentence. Also important is access to educational, vocational, mental health, and addiction treatment programming. Such programming is not a gift or subsidy to prisoners; rather, it is an investment in public safety that benefits all communities and taxpayers. But such investment is wasted if prisoners are kept in prison so long that incarceration becomes counterproductive, weakening family ties and causing social and job skills to atrophy.

Because FAMM regularly corresponds with more than 39,000 federal prisoners, we receive a large amount of information about what programming opportunities exist and do not exist in a wide variety of the nation’s 122 federal prisons—including U.S. penitentiaries; high-, medium-, and low-security institutions, and prison camps—across the country. In the summer of 2016, we distributed our first-ever survey to learn as much as we could about the frequency, type, and quality of programs and education currently offered to federal prisoners. We received responses from more than 2,000 inmates, many offering extensive details about which programming, jobs, and educational opportunities are available to them in prison and which are not.

We believe this survey is both timely and important because it will give policymakers a better understanding of the current offerings in federal prison and provide a guide to what reforms should be implemented to advance the goal of reducing and incentivizing recidivism. Specifically, this report will give lawmakers a sense of where the BOP seems to be falling short of its goal of beginning rehabilitation on day one, and how legislation being considered in Congress might be improved to provide meaningful incentives for prisoners to pursue that rehabilitation. Read the full report here.