In the first general study of offender recidivism in Alaska, the Judicial Council has found that two-thirds of the offenders in the study sample had been re-incarcerated at least once in the first three years after their release from custody for a former conviction. The re-incarceration was for either a new offense or a probation or parole violation. Overall, 55 percent had a new conviction within the three years.
The Judicial Council study looked at 1,934 offenders, all of whom had been charged with a felony in 1999 and convicted of either a felony or misdemeanor. Of these, 1,798 had been out of custody for at least three years since the 1999 case. The remaining 135 offenders—7 percent of the total—were still incarcerated (N=48) or had not been out of custody long enough to be included in the study (N=87).
The study looked at four measures of recidivism:
- rearrests, using Department of Public Safety data;
- new court cases, using Alaska Court System data;
- new convictions, using Department of Public Safety data;
- remands to incarceration of the offender—either for new arrests or for probation or parole violations—using Department of Corrections data.
These are measures commonly used in recidivism studies in other states and for the country as a whole. As indicators, they overlap somewhat in what they cover, but they reference different levels of seriousness in the recidivism and different levels of involvement of justice system resources. Only a new conviction can be considered proven criminal behavior, but rearrests, new court filings, and remands to custody also draw upon justice system resources in varying degrees. For example, a remand to custody solely for a probation violation involving alcohol use may require the action of a probation officer; an appearance before a judge but not a full trial; and incarceration for a period. It would not involve filing new charges. A fresh arrest for an alleged new offense would usually consume more resources because the different components of the process would be involved to a greater extent.
Table 1 presents the percentages of each type of offender—as classified by the 1999 case—who recidivated according to each of the four measures. For each measure, property offenders were the group who recidivated the most, sexual offenders and drug offenders the least.
Factors Related to More Recidivism
A multivariate analysis—that is, one that distinguished the effects of several factors—revealed that, among the factors examined, an offender’s age and economic status were most closely associated with the likelihood of coming back into contact with the justice system.
Economic status was determined by whether or not an offender had been able to afford a private attorney with the original 1999 case. Indigent offenders were about 50 percent more likely to be remanded to custody, rearrested, have a new conviction or have a new case filed.
Younger offenders were more likely to show recidivism. Those between 17 and 24 had the highest rates of recidivism; those 45 and older showed markedly lower rates. Eighteen-year-olds were 81 percent more likely to recidivate based on all four measures than 45-year-olds.
Other factors associated with higher recidivism were evidence of a mental health, drug or alcohol problem; a criminal history prior to the 1999 case; and Alaska Native ethnicity.
Factors Related to Less Recidivism
The multivariate analysis also revealed some information on what is associated with
less recidivism. Offenders in the study whose 1999 convictions were more serious were
less likely to return to the justice system. Seriousness was defined by class of offense:
Unclassified felonies (the most serious under Alaska law); Class A, B and C felonies;
and Class A and B misdemeanors. (There were no offenders convicted of Unclassified
felonies among the 1,798 analyzed in this study.)
Further findings were that offenders whose 1999 case conviction was for a sexual offense were among the least likely to recidivate, and offenders convicted of a drug offense were also less likely to have a new case filed or be remanded to custody. In addition, Asian-Pacific Islander ethnicity was associated with less recidivism for three of the measures (rearrest, new case filing, or new conviction).
Timing of Recidivism
The longer an offender was out of custody without being rearrested, the less likely that the offender would be rearrested during the three-year period examined (Table 2). These findings are consistent with national studies that show that offenders are most likely to be rearrested soon after their release from a previous incarceration. Twenty-six percent of the offenders were rearrested at least once within six months after their release. This represents 43 percent of all rearrests that occurred during the three-year period.
The pattern of timing on recidivism on the other measures similarly showed that re-involvement with the justice system declined in frequency over the three-year period. In other words, recidivism was more likely to occur in the first months after release from custody.
Types and Seriousness of New Convictions
Within the first three years of their release, 864 offenders of the 1,798 were convicted of new offenses. The study compared the type of the new offense with the 1999 case conviction offense to see how often repeat offenders committed the same type of offense:
- 28 percent of the persons who were convicted of a driving offense in a 1999 case had at least one new driving conviction during the first three years after their release on the 1999 offense;
- 23 percent of the persons who were convicted of an “other” offense in a 1999 case had at least one new “other” conviction. New offenses in the “other” category included escape, perjury, alcohol-related offenses (e.g., bootlegging), prostitution, obstruction of justice, and weapons offenses;
- 23 percent of the persons who were convicted of a property offense in a 1999 case had at least one new property conviction;
- 22 percent of the persons who were convicted of a violent offense in a 1999 case had at least one new violent conviction;
- 7 percent of the persons who were convicted of a drug offense in a 1999 case had at least one new drug conviction;
- 3 percent of the persons who were convicted of a sexual offense in a 1999 case had at least one new sexual conviction.
These figures show that:
- sexual offenders were the group least likely to be convicted of the same type of offense;
- driving offenders were the group most likely to be convicted of the same type of offense;
- most offenders—no matter what the original conviction offense—were more likely to be convicted of a new driving offense than any other type of offense.
In addition, most offenders who were convicted of a new offense were convicted for one that was less serious, or of the same seriousness as their earlier offense.
The findings of the Judicial Council study may serve as a baseline for future general recidivism studies and also for comparison in studying the outcomes of programs such as therapeutic courts and various treatment programs. Further, they provide some guidance for decisions on how to allocate resources.
The above article was based on Criminal Recidivism in Alaska (Anchorage: Alaska Judicial Council, 2007).