What Happens Over Twenty Years After Prison Release?

Study Reveals Nearly All Offenders Are Rearrested and The Majority Are Reincarcerated

A newly released study tracked the 20-year recidivism of nearly 1,400 offenders who were released from a county prison in Tennessee. The offenders were divided into two groups, with the largest group (1,052) receiving a cognitive-behavioral treatment known as Moral Reconation Therapy¨ or MRT¨ during their incarceration, which was in the years 1987-1991. A smaller comparison group of offenders (329) participated in other institutional programs such as education, AA, individual counseling, and vocational training at the same time. After 20 years of release nearly 94 percent of the nonMRT-treated offenders had been rearrested, while just over 81 percent of the large MRT-treated group had been rearrested. During the 20-year period 82 percent of the nonMRT-treated offenders had been reincarcerated for a new offense as compared to 61 percent of the MRT-treated group. "Most recidivism studies only count felony arrests," said Dr. Gregory Little, the first author of the report. "But we counted all arrests," Little continued, "with the only exceptions for minor traffic infractions that can't result in a new jail of prison sentence." "Most states only look at reincarceration into their own prison system and don't count serious sentences that result in reincarceration into local institutions, the federal system, or into other states. And they typically only look at 3 years. That gives an inaccurate picture of the true extent of recidivism." The study represented a long-term followup on the treatment results of MRT, which was first implemented in Memphis, TN in mid-1985. The groups of offenders had been evaluated for recidivism over each of their first ten years of release, "but we became interested in the real long-term effects of MRT," Little said, "and virtually no one in the criminal justice system looks at 20-year recidivism. But it's important because if a particular treatment works, its effects should be seen indefinitely." In 2008, MRT was granted status by inclusion on the "National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices" by the Federal agency SAMHSA. MRT is the only such program for both adults and juveniles in corrections and for substance abuse treatment. "In essence," Little stated, "over the 20 years after MRT treatment we now know the true effect. For every 100 offenders who are treated, 13 offenders (who would have been rearrested without treatment) will will show clean records with no arrests. A total of 21 of these 100 offenders (who would be expected to return without treatment) will not return to a prison or jail. To the public it might not seem to be a huge effect, but in the criminal justice system it's a highly significant and important finding. Treatment does work and it saves an enormous amount of money." The study was published in the February 2010 issue of Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment Review and is available as a pdf download.