Recently, JPay — a company that works with the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to provide communications services for inmates — reported that the recidivism, or reoffense, rate at state prisons has fallen almost 10 percent, about cut in half from 2015 to 2018.
But, the DOCR says while the numbers are encouraging, they are also a little misleading.
“Recidivism to me…it’s almost like this false report card, but it is our report card, right? So, prisons get rated on whether or not we do a good job with people returning,” explained the DOCR Director of Facility Operations, Colby Braun.
For the average North Dakotan, fewer re-offenders means less crime, fewer victims and less money being funneled into corrections.
The problem with stats released by JPay, according to Braun, is that they only account for one year after a group of inmates was released in 2015, and again in 2018.
“The people who were released in 2015, it looks at their…how they did in 2016? How many people came back in 2016? If you look at 2018, it’s a whole different group of people. How did they do? How many people came back in 2019?” Braun elaborated.
He says the best-accepted measure of reoffense is tracking if someone returns to prison anytime in a full three years after release.
Take a look at the DOCR’s data by comparison:
In 2015, 39.5 percent of inmates released returned somewhere between one and three years.
Skip to 2017, and the DOCR has the percentage of inmates who returned in just the first two years so far. That was 36.7 percent.
And in 2018, the percentage for return after one year is right on par with JPay’s percentage, at 12.9 percent.
But like Braun said, one year just isn’t a long enough period of time to accurately measure recidivism, as you can see by the stark difference between the two-year gap after 2017, and just one-year in 2018.
“All of the sudden 2018 was highlighted as ‘this is way different than what we’ve seen in the past in the first year of a release’. And that’s where I don’t want to mislead it, because we could all of a sudden see the same group of people have a really bad second year. So it’s exciting, but it’s not something where we’d say we’ve got the magic potion,” Braun added.
JPay did use DOCR data. Braun says the company reached out asking for it, but it’s not something they would have typically released at this stage.
I took a phone call with a State Penitentiary inmate who’s 17 years into a 30-year sentence. He is very familiar with reoffenses.
“Honestly I try not to pay too much attention because I’ve seen too many guys…” inmate, Zach Schmidkunz trailed off.
I clarified, “Like coming in and out of the prison?”
“Yeah, I’ve seen it quite a bit,” he responded.
Schmidkunz assured me he will not fall into the recidivism statistics.
“There’s nothing that can…I don’t know how to word it…it’s just, when you’ve done this amount of time, you do everything differently I suppose you could say,” he explained.
KX News obtained recidivism data from the DOCR going back to 2004. The worst year was the group of inmates released in 2014. The reoffense rate was close to 46 percent. The best year was 2008 when the reoffense rate three years later was 35 percent.