26 May 2009

Pew On Evidence Based Sentencing

The Pew Center on the States has a new report (via Think Outside the Cage) on evidence based sentencing, and in particular on preventing recidivism for the majority of people sentenced to felonies who are on probation rather than serving prison sentences.

The trouble is that while the report repeatedly urges state legislatures to adopt evidence based sentencing programs and says that they work (well duh, otherwise they wouldn't be evidence based), it is remarkably thin on what these proven programs actually involve. Indeed, the opening paragraph of the report seems to be a persausive argument for more incarceration:

Sixty to 80 percent of state felony defendants are placed on probation, fined or jailed in their local communities. Although the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, there are nearly three times more offenders on probation than in state prisons. Recidivism rates among these felony defendants are at unprecedented levels. Almost 60 percent have been previously convicted and more than 40 percent of those on probation fail to complete probation successfully. The high recidivism rate among felons on probation pushes up state crime rates and is one of the principal contributors to our extraordinarily high incarceration rates. High recidivism rates also contribute to the rapidly escalating cost of state corrections, the second fastest growing expenditure item in state budgets over the past 20 years.

Most voters would be shocked by this fact and assume that probation is much harder to come by for felons than it actually is in practice.

Perhaps the 2007 paper in the Indiana Law Journal, which this seven page brief purports to summarize, is more informative.

I don't doubt that there are programs that have been proven to prevent recidivism. But, Pew should be telling us what they are and showing us the research in summary form, not simply telling us that they are good, mostly sight unseen.

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