Illinois, like much of the country, continues to struggle with high rates of recidivism in its prisons. A new report by the Pew Center on the States finds that America's corrections departments have not solved one of their biggest problems. Former inmates keep coming back, which calls into question the departments ability to "correct" and drives up the costs for states to house and care for the same prisoners again and again.
The Pew study called "State Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America's Prisons" (PDF) reports that 45.4 percent of the nation's prison population in 1999 returned to prison three years later. In 2004, that number dropped to 43.3 percent. The report's executive summary concluded: "If more than four out of 10 adult American offenders still return to prison within three years of their release, the system designed to deter them from continued criminal behavior clearly is falling short. That is an unhappy reality, not just for offenders, but for the safety of American communities."
The situation is even worse in Illinois where 51.7 percent of the prison population in 2004 went through the revolving door; down just 0.1 percent since 1999. And if the safety issue isn't enough to provoke legislatures to look at the problem, surely a ballooning pricetag will. The Pew study shows the increasing budgets for the nation's departments of corrections are the "second fastest growing area of state budgets, trailing only Medicaid."
Fortunately, legislators aren't just sitting on their hands anymore. In 2009, Illinois passed a bill to create a task force to look at inmates' risks and needs. The tool will be implemented for 75 percent of the state's parolees within five years. The Prairie State has also created an incentive program for parole departments to reduce the rate of recidivism.