Nationally we know recidivism rates are too high. We also know this is an issue here in South Carolina, and locally in Charleston. Unfortunately, no one has data for our county or city to provide us with a baseline recidivism rate. While the SC Department of Corrections does record their state level recidivism data, the numbers only reflect individuals who have been sentenced back to prison for 90 days or more (25% within 3 years). These statistics do not reflect the actual number of people who are released, arrested again and cycle through our county jails or do not receive a prison sentence of 90 days or more.
The issue of reentry is especially relevant for South Carolina and the Charleston area. Charleston County manages the largest jail in the state (daily population of 1,200). More than 31,000 inmates processed through the Charleston County Detention Center in 2011. Approximately 600 individuals return to Charleston County from state prisons alone every year. The growth in South Carolina’s prison population mirrors the national trend. Research and data shows that the increase in national prison population was driven not by an increase in crime, but by state decisions to put more low-risk, non-violent offenders behind bars, to increase prison terms for violent and non-violent offenders, and to neglect community corrections and reentry programs. As a result, a significant number of parole and probation violators return to prison. South Carolina’s state incarcerated population has nearly tripled in the last 25 years, now over 22,000 state inmates, a number that does not include those in SC jails or federal prisons. This growth has come at a significant financial cost to taxpayers. Since 1983, state spending on prisons increased by more than 500 percent to $394 million. Few organizations exist in Charleston to help the formerly incarcerated population. Those that do operate in silos, providing fragmented and uncoordinated services in separate locations. Most importantly, local rehabilitation efforts typically don’t focus on the risk factors that research shows us most correlate to reoffending.
The U.S. incarcerates more people – in absolute numbers and per capita – than any other nation in the world. With only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25% of the world’s prison population. For every person who goes to prison, there is a family and community left behind. Of the 2.3 million people currently incarcerated, most of them will return home after completing their sentences. And the majority is unprepared for the challenges they will face on the outside, with little assistance in their reintegration and, at best, with strained connections to their families and communities. Prisoners, their children, and their families experience risks and disadvantages experienced by few others in our society.
In recent years, federal, city, and state governments have recognized the futility of releasing people from incarceration back into society while they are unprepared to lead productive lives. Without any treatment or preparation, most of these individuals will reoffend and return to prison. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, among state prisoners released in 30 states from 2005 to 2010, two-thirds (67.8%) were arrested for a new crime within 3 years, and three-quarters (76.6%) were arrested within 5 years.