Study on Parolees in Mass: Parolees offend more than those who serve out their sentence


The Massachusetts Recidivism Study reflects a collaborative effort between the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center and the Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC) to closely examine factors contributing to recidivism, with three interrelated study components: an analysis of DOC administrative data and recidivism, parole officer focus groups, and interviews of recidivists as they return to prison. This report provides the findings of the first component while the companion report, “Reincarcerated: The Experiences of Men Returning to Massachusetts Prisons,” provides results from the focus groups and survey of recidivists.

Key Findings

• The overall three-year reincarceration recidivism rate among the 1,786 males released from the DOC in 2002 was 39 percent; with technical parole violators excluded, the recidivism rate dropped to 35 percent.
• Recidivists, on average, were younger, served shorter-prison terms, and were more likely to be unmarried. Additionally, blacks recidivated at a significantly higher rate than other races.
• Property offenders had the highest recidivism rates (57 percent) with similar patterns among inmates paroled and those released because their sentences expired. Nonviolent offenders, consisting primarily of property and drug offenders, recidivated at a significantly higher rate (43 percent) than violent offenders (36 percent).
• Of the 426 inmates in the cohort serving a sentence for a drug offense, 227 (53 percent) were serving a drug sentence associated with a mandatory minimum term; recidivism rates among those serving a mandatory minimum drug offense were significantly lower (29 percent) compared with the rate for nonmandatory drug offenders (46 percent).
• On average, recidivists became involved in the criminal justice system at an earlier age and had criminal histories with more juvenile and adult arraignments, convictions, and prior adult incarcerations.
• Sixty-five percent of the release cohort was released to the street via expiration of sentence; the remaining 35 percent were paroled to the street.
• The recidivism rate (45 percent) for inmates paroled to the street was significantly higher than the rate (36 percent) of inmates released to the street via expiration of sentence.
• Among the 623 inmates paroled, 29 percent were revoked and returned to prison for either a technical violation of their parole conditions or for committing a new offense. When technical violations were excluded from the calculation, the parolee return rate decreased to 10 percent.
• Inmates released for the first time had lower recidivism rates than those who had a prior
parole or probation violation (and had been “rereleased”).
• Almost half (47 percent) of inmates who recidivated did so within one year of being released; by 18 months after release, 67 percent of those who recidivated had returned to prison.
• The majority (58 percent) of first-year recidivists were returned to prison on a new sentence (38 percent county and 20 percent state), 40 percent were returned for violations of parole (28 percent for a technical violation and 12 percent for a new crime arrest), and 2 percent for violations of a probation term.
• Higher recidivism rates corresponded to release from higher security levels; half of all inmates in the cohort released from a maximum security facility recidivated.
• Participants in the Transition Workshop recidivated at a higher rate (43 percent) than those who did not participate (35 percent), but also represented a disproportionate number of inmates released from facilities with higher security levels.