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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.
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