The Prevalence, Predictability, and Policy Implications of Recidivism

by Stephen P. Klein, Michael N. Caggiano

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In 1978, RAND researchers conducted a survey of inmates in California, Michigan, and Texas prisons. One of the survey reports (RAND/R-2815-NIJ) suggested that crime might be reduced if scarce prison space were allocated to offenders most likely to commit crimes upon their release from prison, i.e., to "recidivate." Two critical assumptions underlying this suggestion are: (1) a substantial number of inmates recidivate, and (2) it is possible to identify which inmates will recidivate when they are sentenced, or before they are released, or both. This report examines the accuracy of both assumptions and the implications for policies regarding the length of sentences imposed. Its findings indicate that prison inmates usually commit crimes, often serious ones, after their release, but it is not possible to predict accurately which inmates will recidivate, how soon after release they will recidivate, or how often they commit post-release crimes.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Report series. The report was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1948 to 1993 that represented the principal publication documenting and transmitting RAND's major research findings and final research.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.