In 2015, 6.7 million people were under the care of the correctional system, but only 2.1 million were in custody.
A corollary to the debate about mass incarceration is the one about prisoner re-entry, which doesn’t get the attention it deserves even as the problem has escalated.
In 1980, state and federal prisons released fewer than 170,000 inmates each year. Today, the number is about 650,000, or roughly the population of Boston. Much of the focus in the popular press is on the number of people incarcerated, but the vast majority of people under correctional supervision are not behind bars. Instead, they’re living in the community while on parole or probation. As of 2015, 6.7 million people were under the care of the correctional system, but only 2.1 million—less than a third—were physically in custody.
That ratio hasn’t changed much over the past 30 years, and neither has the fact that ex-offenders are a major source of criminal behavior. About two-thirds of the people freed from prison commit new crimes, and the majority of all prison admissions each year comprises individuals who violated the conditions of their probation or parole.
Justice Department studies from the 1990s revealed that 43% of ex-felons on probation were rearrested within three years, and half of the arrests were for a violent crime or drug offense. Similarly, 67% of parolees were rearrested within three years for a felony or serious misdemeanor, and more than half were back in prison. Even prisoners considered “nonviolent” didn’t all stay that way after being released. Nearly 22% were eventually rearrested for violent crimes that included assault, rape and murder. A quarter-century later, these disturbing rates of recidivism continue.
“Overall, 67.8% of the 404,638 state prisoners released in 2005 in 30 states were arrested within 3 years of release, and 76.6% were arrested within 5 years of release,” according to a Justice Department analysis published in 2014. “Among prisoners released in....
Jason L. Riley is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, and a Fox News commentator.