12 November 2016

A Profile Of Incarcerated Colorado Felons

This 2009 data on the characteristics of felons who are incarcerated in Colorado from a previous post at this blog, bears repeating:
Educationally, just 1% of those admitted to prison had an associates degree or more education although about 11% have some college, while 37% lacked a high school diploma with 36% being at least functionally illiterates who needed adult basic education instruction, rather than high school level GED instruction which would be too advanced for them. About two-thirds of those with either a high school diploma or GED had a GED rather than a high school diploma. So, less than a quarter of Colorado prison inmates graduated from high school in the ordinary course. In Colorado as a whole, 11% lack a high school diploma or GED, 89% of the age 25+ population has at least a high school diploma or GED, 65% have at least some college, 43% have an associates degree or higher degree, and 33% have a bachelor's degree.

About 8% had an IQ of under 81. A moderate to severe mental health problem is an issue for 30%. A moderate to severe substance abuse problem is an issue for 79%. A moderate to severe medical problem is present in 15%. Sex offenders make up 11% with another 5% suspected of having sex offense histories who are not convicted. An absence of adequate skills to get a job is a factor for 42%. Mental health needs differed considerably based on gender. A moderate to severe mental health problem was an issue for 22% of men and 55% of women. 
The DOC doesn't include crosstabs in its annual report or relate needs data to recidivism data, although some data along that line are collected in a separate report and here. Offenders with mental health issues are slightly more likely to lack of high school diploma or GED (31%-32% v. 28%), to lack job skills (94% v. 91%), to be sex offenders (22%-24% v. 18%), to have substance abuse problems (80%-83% v. 78%) and to have anger issues (40%-41% v. 39%) than other inmates. They are much more likely to have medical problems (25%-28% depending on severity v. 16%), to have IQ below 81 (about 8% v. 4%), and to have suicidality issues (about 21% to 30% depending on severity v. 9%). Only 30% of inmates without a substance abuse problem have a high school diploma and 24% have neither that nor a GED.

Some mental health data don't make much sense. Those who were classified as having mental health issues often had prior psychiatric hospitalization (18%-24% depending on severity) and out patient mental health treatment (42%-47% depending on severity), but among those not classified as having mental health issues, 5% had prior psychiatric hospitalization and 27% had prior outpatient mental health treatment, suggesting significant underdiagnosis of mental health issues by the DOC. Among those with mental health issues 23%-34% had a history of psychotropic medications, but so did 4% of those not so classified. Notably, less than 1% of inmates with mental health issues had a prior not guilty by reason of insanity case. 
The most common mental health conditions were drug addiction, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, alcoholism, schizophrenia and psychotic disorders, dsythmic disorders, "disorders usually diagnosed in childhood" like ADHD, and "sexual and gender identity disorders" 1%. In all 34% of disciplinary violations were attributed to the 25% of inmates classified as having mental health issues in the detailed study on the issue, and these inmates were much more likely to be in solitary confinement or "close" supervision than other inmates (23%-24% v. 11%), despite generally similar offense severity. 
The overall percentage of inmates with moderate to severe needs in some category other than job skills (which almost all inmates seem to lack) is probably in excess of 90%, and once job skills are considered is probably in excess of 95%. 
The DOC also doesn't detail good time forfeitures or gang crime connections in its annual report, although it tracks both. About 7% of Colorado inmates are eligible for deportation upon release because they are not U.S. citizens. About 9% are foreign born (the same as the 9% of the general Colorado population that is foreign born foreign born), but the remainder are U.S. citizens not eligible for deportation. Colorado's inmates are 45% Anglo, 32% Hispanic, 20% African American, 3% Native American and 1% Asian. Colorado as a whole is 71% Anglo, 20% Hispanic, 4% African American, 1% Native American and 3% Asian.
The reality is that strongest risk factors for incarceration are (1) prior incarceration, (2) membership in a gang, (3) dropping out of high school without job skills, (4) substance abuse problems, (5) being male, (6) being black or Native American, and (7) being a woman with mental health issues.

Put another way, rightly or wrongly, someone who has never been previously incarcerated, graduated from high school in the ordinary course (or better yet an associate's degree or better), has job skills, does not have a substance abuse problem, is not black or Native American, and/or is a woman without a mental health problem, is highly unlikely to be incarcerated.

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