urban institute nonprofit social and economic policy research

Massachusetts Recidivism Study

A Closer Look at Releases and Returns to Prison

Read complete document: PDF

PrintPrint this page
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Digg Share on Reddit
| Email this pageE-mail
Document date: February 01, 2008
Released online: April 30, 2008

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

The text below is an excerpt from the complete document. Read the full paper in PDF format.


The Massachusetts Recidivism Study is a collaborative effort between the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center and the Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC) that aims to better understand the experiences of recidivists and how their previous incarceration and time in the community relate to their returns to prison. The study consists of three interrelated components: an analysis of DOC administrative data, interviews with recidivists as they return to prison, and parole officer focus groups. This report provides findings from the analysis of administrative data on the 2002 release cohort comparing recidivists with nonrecidivists. The report compares the two groups across demographics, criminal history, offense type, time served, release type, and in-prison reentry preparation.


In Massachusetts state prisons, recidivism statistics show a slight reduction in rates over the past few years.1 At the same time, though, admissions, custody levels, and overcrowding rates are on the rise. From 2004 to 2007, the criminally sentenced custody population at the Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC) increased 10 percent, by 897 inmates. Along with the increase in the custody population, the number of criminally2 sentenced admissions increased by 10 percent during the same time frame. The number of parole violators has also increased and represents approximately 10 percent of admissions among all criminally sentenced inmates over the past four years, second only to new court commitments.

This study was originally based on prison reentry and research staff asking the question, “What happens to inmates when they get out of prison that impacts their ability to stay out of prison?” Furthermore, “How can we improve positive behavior and increase the chances of successful reentry into the community by considering inmates’ previous incarceration experiences?” In our partnership with the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center, we looked more closely at recidivism in three ways: interviewing recidivists as they were returned to prison, conducting focus groups with parole officers, and conducting statistical analyses of administrative data comparing recidivists versus nonrecidivists. The companion report, “Reincarcerated: The Experiences of Men Returning to Massachusetts Prisons,” covers the first two points; this report examines the third.

The overall study was designed to improve our understanding of how the experiences of incarceration, transition to community, and living in the community influence recidivism. This report focuses on findings from analysis of the 2002 male release data. Traditionally, the DOC produces annual recidivism reports.3 This report expands on those annual recidivism reports by including additional administrative data in relation to an inmate’s risk to recidivate, including race, Hispanic ethnicity, age, offense type, type of release from prison, type of return to prison, security level of releasing institution, time served, criminal history, and participation in a DOC transition workshop. This report also looks closely at recidivism data in relation to parole, while the companion report explores the process of parole revocations by parole officers. By comparing recidivists with nonrecidivists, we gain a better understanding of the known static variables. This component of the larger study was also intended to provide a conceptual framework to our findings in the survey of recidivists provided in the companion report. The analysis of administrative data provides a basis of comparison for the sample of recidivists interviewed for the study.

(End of excerpt. The entire paper is available in PDF format.)

Topics/Tags: | Crime/Justice

Usage and reprints: Most publications may be downloaded free of charge from the web site and may be used and copies made for research, academic, policy or other non-commercial purposes. Proper attribution is required. Posting UI research papers on other websites is permitted subject to prior approval from the Urban Institute—contact publicaffairs@urban.org.

If you are unable to access or print the PDF document please contact us or call the Publications Office at (202) 261-5687.

Disclaimer: The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders. Copyright of the written materials contained within the Urban Institute website is owned or controlled by the Urban Institute.

Email this Page