A recent report by the Alaska Judicial Council (AJC) examined for the first time recidivism among both felony and misdemeanor offenders in the state. An earlier report in 2007 was the first general study of recidivism and focused on felons. In this 2011 study, the AJC analyzed records for felons and misdemeanants who returned to the community in 2008 and 2009. Because there were two years of data for the offenders released in 2008, the report highlights the analysis of that 2008 sample-2,675 felons and 8,815 misdemeanants. (The report does include data for the 2009 sample.) This article focuses on the data for offenders released in 2008.
In Criminal Recidivism in Alaska, 2008-2009, the researchers looked at three measures of recidivism:
- Rearrests-Department of Public Safety ASPIN data
- Reconvictions-Department of Public Safety ASPIN data
- Remands to incarceration, including remands for new arrests, and for probation and parole violations-Department of Corrections OTIS and AVOMS data.
There is some overlap in the measures, but each reflects an offender's contact with the justice system which impacts justice resources. In the report and in this article, "recidivism" is used as an umbrella term referring to all measures of recidivism. When a specific percentage for recidivism is given, the measure-remand, rearrest, or reconviction-is identified.
The report also looked at offender characteristics and the location of the court where the case was originally filed; this may or may not have been the same as the offense location. The court locations were designated as Anchorage, Fairbanks, Southeast, Mat-Su, Kenai, and Rural.
Among felons, recidivism rates were highest among younger males and individuals with lengthy or more serious criminal histories. Rearrest and reconviction rates within two years were higher for Alaska Natives and Blacks than for Caucasians and Asian-Pacific Islanders. Remand rates were also higher for Alaska Natives and Blacks than for Caucasians and Pacific-Islanders.
The most common underlying (original) offense was a Class C (less serious) felony, and most felony offenders had committed property offenses (26%), followed by drug offenses (21%), drug/DUI/alcohol-related offenses (20%), and violent offenses (19%). "Other" offenses and sexual offenses represented much smaller groups of offenders, 5 percent and 9 percent respectively. Over a third of felony convictions were in Anchorage-the state's most populous city.
Highest remand, rearrest and reconviction rates were found for males, aged 17-24, with a prior criminal history. Felons with lengthier criminal histories (3 or more prior felony convictions) were more likely to reoffend than felons with no prior criminal history. (See Tables 1 and 2.)
The figures show results similar to those for felons. Recidivism rates for misdemeanants were highest among younger males and individuals with a prior criminal history, and rates were higher for Alaska Natives and Blacks than Caucasian and Asian-Pacific Islanders. Within one year of return to the community, 44 percent of Alaska Natives and 40 percent of Black misdemeanants were remanded while 30 percent of Asian-Pacific Islanders and 29 percent of Caucasians were remanded. Within one year, 45 percent of Alaska Native and 44 percent of Black misdemeanants were rearrested compared to Caucasian and Asia-Pacific Islander misdemeanants, who were rearrested at the same rate: 30 percent. Reconvictions rates were also higher for Alaska Natives and Blacks. Within one year, 34 percent of Alaska Natives and 29 percent of Blacks were reconvicted, and within two years, 51 percent and 45 percent respectively were reconvicted. In comparison to felons, for over one-third of offenders, the underlying offense was DUI/alcohol-related, followed by violent offenses (20%), other driving offenses (15%), "other" offenses (12%), property offenses (11%), and drug offenses (3%). One-half of misdemeanor offenses were sentenced in Anchorage.
Recidivism rates for misdemeanants were also higher for younger males and those with a prior criminal history. Within one year, 39 percent of misdemeanant offenders between the ages of 17 and 24, and 40 percent between the ages of 25 and 29, were rearrested. However, the relationship between age and recidivism was less consistent among misdemeanant offenders. Among misdemeanants between the ages of 40 and 44, 39 percent were also rearrested within one year. And within two years, both 17-29 year olds and 40-44 year olds had similar rates of rearrest: 53 percent and 51 percent respectively.
Timing of Recidivism
Reoffending, for both misdemeanants and felons, was most likely to occur within one year after return to the community. Within 6 months of release, 20 percent of felons were remanded, 17 percent were rearrested, and 8 percent were reconvicted. Within one year, 36 percent of felons were remanded, 27 percent were rearrested, and 17 percent were reconvicted. Within two years, 39 percent of felons had been rearrested and 30 percent had been reconvicted.
For misdemeanants, within 6 months of release, 21 percent were remanded, 24 percent were rearrested, and 16 percent were reconvicted. Within one year, 34 percent were remanded, 35 percent were rearrested, and 26 percent were reconvicted. Within two years, 48 percent of misdemeanants were rearrested and 40 percent were reconvicted. (See Table 3.)
Felons experienced higher remand rates which the report suggests might be attributed to felons being on supervised probation, and therefore more likely to be reported for a new crime or violation of parole or probation by a probation or parole officer. Misdemeanants are not on supervised parole or probation.
Location of Court
After two years following return to the community, felony offenders in the Anchorage court location had the highest rates for rearrest (46%) and reconviction (35%), and felons in Mat-Su had the lowest rate of rearrest (32%). For misdemeanants, Southeast had the highest recidivism rates across all measures, while Mat-Su had the lowest rates. The report notes that more examination is needed to explain this variability which may be due to variations in law enforcement, prosecutorial or judicial practices, or other factors.
Types and Seriousness of New Offenses
The report also examined how the original offense compared to new convictions to determine if offenders repeated the same type of offense or went on to more serious offending. For felons and misdemeanants, the more serious the underlying offense, the less likely the individual would reoffend (see Table 3.)
Among felons, those convicted of the least serious felony (Class C) had the highest recidivism rate. Thirty percent were rearrested within one year. Felons convicted of an "Unclassified" (most serious) felony had half the rate of recidivism: 14 percent were rearrested within one year. In terms of seriousness of offenses and recidivism rates, sex offenders had the lowest rates of remand, rearrest, and reconviction.
Among misdemeanants, nearly 40 percent had originally been convicted of a DUI charge, and this group had the lowest rates of recidivism across all measures-nearly one-half of other misdemeanants. (See Tables 1 and 4.)
Within two years of return to their community:
- 30% of felons were convicted of new offenses.
- 2% of Class B felons and 3% of Class C felons were convicted of a more serious crime than their original underlying offense.
- No Class A felons were convicted of a more serious crime. (An unclassified felony is the most serious category and an unclassified felon could, therefore, not commit a more serious offense.)
- 29% of individuals convicted of a violent offense, 34% convicted of a property offense, and 34% convicted of "other" offenses were reconvicted of the same category of offense.
- 15% of drug offenders were reconvicted of a drug offense. (These offenders were more likely to be convicted of a driving or property offense than another drug offense.)
- 2% of sex offenders were reconvicted of another sex offense.
A higher percentage of misdemeanants were convicted of a new offense within two years of return to their community, and misdemeanants were more likely to be convicted of a new, more serious offense. Within two years of return to their community:
- 40% of misdemeanants were convicted of a new offense.
- 15% of offenders convicted of a Class A (most serious) misdemeanor as the underlying (original) offense were convicted within two years of a more serious offense.
- 40% of offenders who were convicted of a property crime were reconvicted of the same type of offense within two years.
- 38% of offenders who were convicted of a violent crime were reconvicted of a violent offense within two years.
- Misdemeanants convicted of a drug offense were the least likely to be reconvicted of a similar offense.
The study suggests that Alaskan policy makers and administrators consider the following:
Allocating resources toward groups shown to be more likely to reoffend-misdemeanants-to reduce recidivism among this group. Data show this group is likely to reoffend and commit a more serious crime.
Focusing on felons who commit violent, property, and "other" felonies. This group had the highest recidivism rate among felons, and these individuals were most likely to go on to commit a similar new offense.
Focusing on youthful offenders, Alaska Natives, Blacks, and those offenders with prior criminal records. The likelihood of reoffending was high for these groups.
The AJC also recommended examining why there was higher recidivism in Anchorage and Southeast than in other areas of the state.
The report also notes that recidivism rates for sex offenders, DUI, and felony drug offenders are relatively low. However, as indicated in "Notes on Recidivism" in this issue, when analyzing recidivism rates, the category of offense may affect the rate. Sex offenses, for example, are severely underreported to police.
The 2007 recidivism study by the AJC reviewed records for a much smaller number of offenders (1,934) who had been charged with a felony in 1999 and convicted of either a felony or a misdemeanor. That study also examined socio-economic, health, and substance abuse data for the sample. Analysis of the data showed that within 3 years, 66 percent of offenders were remanded to custody at least once for new offenses or violations of parole or probation. (For a summary of this report, see "Offender Recidivism Figures" in the Winter 2007 issue of the Forum.) Although socio-economic, health, and substance abuse data were not available for the offenders in this latest study, the comparison of felon and misdemeanant reoffending patterns provides additional information that can assist policymakers in decisions about resource allocation to reduce recidivism, especially with regard to Alaska's Five-Year Prisoner Reentry Strategic Plan, 2011-2016 released by the Alaska Prisoner Reentry Task Force in 2011. (See "Alaska's Five-Year Prisoner Reentry Strategic Plan, 2011-2016," in the Summer/Fall 2011 issue of the Forum.) The 2011 Alaska Judicial Council recidivism report is available at http://www.ajc.state.ak.us/reports/recid2011.pdf.