Post by Robyn McCullough, Amicus Community Engagement Coordinator

Last month, after attending a lengthy meeting about best practices for reentry, I found myself thinking that I really needed to purchase Rosetta Stone’s Criminal Justice/Reentry language software and begin my studies immediately!  Ok, so everybody was speaking English at this meeting, but at times it felt like I was listening to a foreign language—what with all the acronyms, idioms and industry-specific vocab so casually thrown about.  It’s hard to deny that we in the reentry biz definitely have our own vernacular—if not our very own language.

Photo by Greeblie

Given my experience (I’m considered a “professional” in reentry), I can only imagine what kind of confusion the non-industry bystander must undergo when stuck listening to one of us insiders ramble on using this acronym or that. What follows is a brief intro to the lexicon of reentry and one of its most commonly used and oft misunderstood terms: RECIDIVISM.

Its definition in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary reads:

“recidivism. noun. ri-si-də-vi-zəm : a tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior; especially : relapse into criminal behavior”

Recidivism is the behavior or condition, and a “recidivist” is someone who “recidivates.” We measure the rate of recidivism by tracking offenders released from prison and monitoring whether or not they re-offend (commit a new crime) or violate their parole. A parole violation includes anything from failing to make a meeting with their Supervised Release Agent to  failing to find a place to live within a certain amount of time. Both result in a return to prison.  The most recent nationwide study of recidivism indicates  “A quarter of adults exiting parole in 2008 — 133,947 individuals — returned to prison as a result of violating their terms of supervision, and 9 percent of adults exiting parole returned to prison as a result of a new conviction”

That’s a lot of verbiage, but hopefully you have a better handle on that tricky r-word. We can expect to hear the word “recidivism” more often not only in our niche field of reentry, but in the wider public realm; prison overcrowding, growing annual corrections spending, and discouraging statistics about recidivism nationwide are creating the need for more and better reentry services.

I’ll leave you with a quote from a speech by Attorney General Eric Holder given in July, 2010:

photo by Ryan J Reilly

“Over the last few decades, state spending on corrections has risen faster than nearly any other budget item.  Yet, at a cost of $60 billion a year, our prisons and jails do little to prepare prisoners to get jobs and “go straight” after they’re released.  People who have been incarcerated are often barred from housing, shunned by potential employers and surrounded by others in similar circumstances.  This is a recipe for high recidivism.  And it’s the reason that two-thirds of those released are rearrested within three years.   It’s time for a new approach.”

Time for a new approach, indeed.