The Recidivism Trap

In a commentary for The Marshall Project, Jeffrey A. Butts and Vincent Schiraldi make a compelling argument why recidivism rates are the wrong measurements by which to judge the success or failure of the criminal justice system.

Rather than asking “what’s the recidivism rate?” we should ask an entirely different set of questions about justice interventions. Are we really helping people convicted of crimes to form better relationships with their families and their law-abiding friends? Are we helping them to advance their educational goals? Are they more likely to develop the skills and abilities required for stable employment? Are we helping them to respect others and to participate positively in the civic and cultural life of their communities? 

These questions are critical because they look beyond the “yes or no” of recidivism and focus on factors that we know moderate criminal behavior—social bonds, education attainment, employment; they all facilitate what researchers call “desistance,” or the process by which people learn to become law-abiding. 

Regarding desistance, we do know that sex offender registries do nothing to help people form better relationships, advance their educational goals, find or maintain steady employment, or participate positively in the civic and cultural life of their communities. Let’s stop wasting resources on failed and harmful policies. End registries.

Read Butts’ and Schiraldi’s full commentary, and attached report, at the Marshall Project.

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