Prison trying to build on trend of fewer reoffending inmates 

  • Shea Farm on Iron Works road in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Shea Farm on Iron Works road in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • An inmate goes into Shea Farm on Iron Works Road. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/4/2016 1:56:27 AM

In 2005, New Hampshire reached a new low in a mounting recidivism crisis. More than half of all offenders were coming back behind bars, many within just months of finding freedom.

The rate of inmates returning to state prison within three years of release spiked to nearly 50 percent for men and close to 60 percent for women.

But the next year, in 2006, the trend stalled. Rates for both genders actually fell slightly. Same again the next year and the year after that, and again the following year.

Now, according to new data from the Department of Corrections, it appears the drop continued into 2010, creating five years of gradual, sustained decline.

Corrections officials are struggling to explain the trend, or determine whether it has carried on in the years since. Joan Schwartz, the department’s director of research and planning, said data isn’t yet available for inmate cohorts after 2010, but will hopefully be soon. The department is still adapting to a new data management system, she said.

Schwartz cited a number of possible factors for fewer inmates reoffending, including the state’s strong economy, low unemployment rate, increased access to medical care, effective prison programs and legislative reform. Senate Bill 500, for instance, brought about several changes in 2010, including early release for some nonviolent offenders and short-term sanctions for low-level parole violators. The legislation was gutted in 2011, but the sanctions piece remained, and is now widely used as a tool to scare parolees into compliance while avoiding longer, more costly lockups. Sanctions aren’t included in recidivism rates.

New Hampshire’s overall recidivism rate dropped 17 percent from 2005 to 2010, bringing it back to about where it was in 2002. In 2010, more than 1,200 offenders were released from prison, and just more than 500 of them were sent back within three years. That’s about 41 percent. For the men, who comprise a majority of the total inmate population, the percentage was slightly higher; for women, it was slightly lower.

The decline between 2009 and 2010 was more pronounced for female offenders, but there were also fewer of them to begin with, making large fluctuations more likely.

Within the 2010 data, offenders who committed multiple types of crime were more likely to reoffend than those who committed just one. Property crimes, including burglary and arson, had the highest rates of recidivism, while violent crimes had the lowest, according to the data. But the inmates least likely to return were those who committed drug crimes only, Schwartz said. Of those who return, half come back in the first seven months.

Offenders return in three ways: through a new sentence, through a parole revocation because of a new charge, or through a serious probation or parole violation. Of the state offenders released in 2010, less than five percent returned on new sentences, about 20 percent for new charges, and about 16 percent for parole violations.

As newer data become available, Schwartz said the department hopes to see a continued drop, though there are new realities to contend with, namely the opiate epidemic.

Looking forward, Schwartz said the department is working on being able to track the impact of specific programs on recidivism rates. The 2010 rate is still above where the state wants to be eventually, which is about 35 percent, according to Schwartz.

“Once we can tease out the reasons offenders return and the impact of programs, the more we can target our resources,” she said. “We’ll also know more about the offender once the offender hits the community, like whether they have health care and housing and such.”

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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