The Pew Center on the States has released a major new empirical study on recidivism rates among released prisoners. Bottom line: about 40 percent are returned to prison within three years of release. About half are returned for violations of parole conditions, and half for new convictions. Return-to-prison rates vary widely among the states, from 22.8 percent in Oregon to 61.2 percent in Minnesota. Wisconsin’s 46-percent rate is a little above the national average.
The most recent comparable study was released by the United States Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics almost a decade ago. The BJS study tracked three-year recidivism rates of prisoners released in 1994. The Pew Study followed cohorts in 1999 and 2004. (The numbers presented above come from the 2004 cohort.) Although the Pew methodology varied from BJS’s in several respects, both found return-to-prison rates of about 40 percent, suggesting a remarkable consistency in recidivism rates over time.