News Release

March 9, 2016

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New Findings Revealed From Extensive Multi-Year Analysis

WASHINGTON, D.C. ― (March 9, 2016) The United States Sentencing Commission (“Commission”) issued a report on the recidivism of federal offenders. The Commission found that nearly half (49.3%) of offenders released from prison or placed on a term of probation in 2005 were rearrested within eight years for either a new crime or for some other violation of the technical conditions of their probation or release.

The Commission also found that:

  • Almost one-third (31.7%) of the offenders studied were reconvicted (as opposed to just rearrested), and one-quarter (24.6%) were reincarcerated;

  • Most offenders who recidivated did so within the first two years of the follow up period (the median time to rearrest was 21 months);

  • Assault was the most common serious rearrest offense (about one-fourth of all rearrests) but most rearrest offenses were non-violent in nature;

  • An offender’s criminal history as calculated under the federal sentencing guidelines was closely correlated with recidivism rates. Rearrest rates ranged from 33.8 percent for offenders in the lowest criminal history category to 80.1 percent for offenders in the highest criminal history category;

  • An offender’s age at the time of release was also closely correlated with recidivism. Offenders released prior to age 21 had the highest rearrest rate, at 67.6 percent, compared to 16.0 percent for those offenders over 60 years of age at the time of release;

  • Other factors, including offense type and educational level, were also associated with differing rates of recidivism but less strongly than age and criminal history.

Chief Judge Patti B. Saris, chair of the Commission stated, “The study is groundbreaking in both its breadth—studying all 25,431 U.S. citizen federal offenders released in 2005, and in its duration—following the releasees over an eight year period. The Commission measured recidivism in multiple ways, including rearrest, reconviction, and/or reincarceration of the offender. The Commission considered all recidivism events (including felonies, misdemeanors, and “technical” violations of the conditions of supervision) except for minor traffic offenses.”

The Commission also reports the number of recidivism events for those who recidivated as well as the most serious crime committed upon release. Chair Saris added, “Many offenders recidivated more than once. Knowing how often offenders recidivate and for what crimes can provide important information to policymakers about how best to address overcapacity of the prisons, to protect the public safety, and to promote effective reentry with rehabilitation.”

In the coming months, the Commission will issue additional reports based on its ongoing recidivism study. The study released today can be found here.

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The United States Sentencing Commission, an independent agency in the judicial branch of the federal government, was organized in 1985 to develop a national sentencing policy for the federal courts. The resulting sentencing guidelines provide structure for the courts’ sentencing discretion to help ensure that similar offenders who commit similar offenses receive similar sentences.