November Issue of BARS Monthly


November Topic: Recidivism

Volume 2, Issue 2                       Tuesday, November 16, 2017

Local/Philly Related News or Perspective:

Meek Mill – A Victim of the Cycle

By Chinaechelum Vincent

meek-mill-60438-jpg..jpegMeek Mill arrives at the criminal justice centre in Philadelphia on 11/26/17. Photograph: Matt Rourke/AP

Recidivism is a serious problem that plagues the formerly-incarcerated nation-wide. In a 2005 report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, it was found that out of “25,400 former inmates who were either released outright from federal prisons or placed on probation…almost half (49.3%)” had been arrested again within the next 8 years.¹

This exemplifies the lack of proper reentry programs or initiatives provided for those leaving jails and prisons and entering back into society. It is of vital importance to establish a proper foundation for the formerly-incarcerated once they get out because if not, the likeliness of them reoffending increases. This includes ensuring that these people have “a place to live/housing, drug treatment/medical care, and employment.”² Without this help, people are more likely to engage in behavior that could lead to their re-incarceration. An additional factor however, takes the form of reforming the criminal justice system itself and taking a new approach to what is punished and for how long.

A very controversial case of recidivism currently being discussed in Philadelphia is that of rapper Meek Mill’s recent arrest on November 6, 2017. In 2008, Mill was charged with drug dealing and possession. He has been on probation since, making it almost 10 years of correctional supervision, a rather extensive time period that rapper Jay-Z described as “unjust and heavy handed.”³  Meek’s current arrest is on the account of parole violations. These violations include leaving Pennsylvania to perform, violating the travel term, being in a physical altercation at St. Louis international airport in March of 2016, as well as popping a wheelie on a dirt bike and speeding, which is considered reckless endangerment. These charges were dropped in court, however Philadelphia judge Genece E. Brinkley, is responsible for the current sentencing to 2-4 years in prison. Brinkley claims that these instances still violated his probation and tells Mill, “I gave you break after break, and you basically just thumbed your nose at this court” which is why she believes this punishment is just. This will be the third time Mill is incarcerated, exemplifying how recidivism can be a commonality after being incarcerated once. Some blame Brinkley for Mill’s current case of recidivism but his lawyer voices the opinion that, “he’s in a system that allows for this to happen.”4  

Mill is one of many Americans who are trapped in the correctional supervision system whether it be in an actual facility or through probation, or even house arrest. Once a person enters the system, they seem to be trapped inside a revolving door, constantly being circled through correctional facilities and their freedom. Action must be taken to ultimately break this cycle and decrease the rate at which individuals are being re-incarcerated. It’s as if those who have entered the system at some point now walk on a thin tightrope and with the slightest wrong step, they’re back to where they started. As policies and programs are implemented to stop recidivism, the formerly incarcerated can look to their freedom as a guarantee and not simply a momentary feeling that can be snatched from them grasp at any point in time.

National Perspective/Impact: 

Wrestling with Recidivism: The Cyclical Nature of Incarceration

By Nia Kaudo

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Too often does the world watch as the criminal justice system grabs hold of an individual during an adolescent stage of their life and keep that person ensnared by a surveilled existence for years, decades and even a lifetime to come. Recidivism may seem like just another painful vessel of America’s cripplingly oppressive criminal justice system, but many citizens are unaware of just how large of role it plays in maintaining America’s carceral society.

According to the National Institute of Justice “recidivism is one of the most fundamental concepts in criminal justice” it is defined by a formerly incarcerated American’s actions that result in “re-arrest, reconviction or return to prison with or without a new sentence” within the first three years after they are released. One of this issues that lies within this seemingly clear-cut definition are the persistent de facto practices in law enforcement and judicial proceedings that are facilitated by structural racism in the United States. The United States has been internationally condemned by the United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, its own Representatives, and a plethora of other sources particularly for the disproportionate number of Black Americans it keeps in bondage as well as the legislative and judicial practices and policies that have resulted in this contemporary crisis. Therefore, if it is globally recognized that criminal justice institutions engage in systematic discrimination, profiling, and targeting of Black Americans, then prisoners of color in the United States are already more vulnerable to re-arrest.

Now that a discussion of America’s carceral state has taken hold throughout the world, all global citizens are in need of the facts. The Bureau of Justice Statistics conducted a study from 2005 to 2010, which uncovered that within the possible recidivism period for a group of 404,638 Americans, across 30 states, 67.8 percent were rearrested, and within 5 years that number had grown to 76.6 percent. This information was reported in 2014, when the discourse around mass incarceration was heightening, however preemptive measures to deter recidivism have struggled to be effective. The United States Sentencing Commission, who releases the statistics of federal inmate populations, reinvigorated key arguments within criminal justice discourse with the release of its 2016 report. For example: advocates for the release of elderly inmates can point to the fact that only 16 percent of those over 60 years old in the study recidivated, while 68 percent of people formerly incarcerated in federal facilities beginning before the age of 21 recidivated. Policy-makers have begun invoking reports like these to support their proposals.

In 2015 when the US Department of Education began an initiative to give Pell Grants to incarcerated Americans two years ago, the Department cited a study that found those who participated in educational programs during their incarceration were 43 percent less likely to return to prison and 13 percent less likely to commit another crime within 3 years, compared to those who did not. The Department followed that statement by saying the study also showed for every single dollar invested in education for American inmates 3 dollars are saved on the costs of re-incarceration, for those who needed additional convincing of the value of education across the board.     

In fact, in Pennsylvania’s own proposal for a federal grant for Improved Reentry Education the Department of Corrections asserted that “The program’s target population prioritizes adult offenders aged 25 and younger who are medium to high risk of reoffending”, denoting that recidivism is a central focus in and all prison policy. Pennsylvania’s DOC’s concerns are rightfully placed, considering their 2013 report on recidivism rate, which showed 70.6 percent of formerly incarcerated citizens in Pennsylvania were rearrested within 3 years.

One graph from the report seen here, explains the recidivism flow, and illustrates the role of the often-misunderstood concept of parole. When a person is convicted of a crime their sentence is usually expressed as “__ to __ years”. The first number is one’s minimum sentence, while the second is their maximum sentence. So if an individual is sentenced to 5-10 years, they must serve a minimum of 5 years, before they have the possibility of being released on parole for until the date of the maximum of their sentence. If they are granted release on parole, they must adhere to an extremely strict set of rules and obligations for those remaining 5 years including random searches, drug tests, employment requirements, possibly counseling requirements, payment of outstanding legal fees, housing restrictions, and so on. If the individual is re-arrested they face reincarceration or a new court commitment causing the cycle to continue.

By anyone’s standards, it is extremely difficult for someone to remain in full compliance with the sanctions of parole, but especially difficult for returning citizens, who endure additional obstacles. The Pennsylvania DOC reported that the re-incarceration rate for those on parole was 50.5 percent overall versus a rate of 20.4 percent for those who maxed out their sentences. A recent study by Dr. Lynne Haney revealed that among the formerly incarcerated fathers she interviewed the average amount of child support debt among them was $36,500;  a failure to pay such a debt could constitute a violation of parole. Haney explains that this was precisely the reason Walter Scott fled his car in fear after being pulled over by his killer Michael Slager. Unfortunately, Walter Scott was just one of many tragic examples of the anxiety and panic often produced from a constant fear of recidivating or being reincarcerated. Sociologist Alice Goffman, also recounts the phenomenon of young Black men being transformed into “fugitives” and living under a surveillance state in “the birthplace of liberty”, whose actions are driven by the likelihood of recidivism and constant instigation by authorities. Any discussion of America’s carceral state must include proactive efforts to prevent Americans from recidivating. These actions such as quality education, more consideration to age, and reasonable parole requirements will redevelop American society into a place where keeping human beings in captivity is longer the primary option, or in some cases the de facto goal.

Recent Events & Ways to Get Involved

By Cary Holley

Local Election Results:

On November 7th Civil Rights attorney Larry Krasner was elected the District Attorney of Philadelphia with a decisive victory of 75% of the vote to opponent Beth Grossman’s 25%. Krasner, who stood out even among Democrats for his progressive stances, will officially take office in January of next year. 16 Democrats were also successful in their bids for City Controller and several judgeships. On a national scale, many progressive candidates won prominent elections in Virginia and New Jersey.

Recidivism Developments in PA:

In May of this year, Governor Tom Wolf alongside Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the creation of the Pennsylvania Reentry Council which aims to raise awareness about the importance of promoting successful reentry and to discuss how to promote it. 17Also, as of May non-civil service employment applications for state agencies no longer require an answer to whether a potential employee was convicted of a crime.18 ‘Banning the box,’ which opens up significantly more job opportunities for the recently released, is an important step in facilitating a formerly-incarcerated individual’s transition back into society.


National Legislation to Track:

S.1994, The CORRECTIONS Act, was introduced this past October by Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas. Its main purpose is to “reduce recidivism and increase public safety” and is co-sponsored by Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.19 This bill serves as an example of how criminal justice reform can override partisan differences. Similar legislation has circulated in the House.

Organizations to Get Involved With:



First Piece:

¹ Zoukis, Christopher. “Report Documents U.S. Recidivism Rates for Federal Prisoners.” Huffington Post. March 25, 2016. Accessed November 13, 2017.

² Heroux, Paul. “Reducing Recidivism: The Challenge of Successful Prisoner Re-Entry.” Huffington Post. 11 August 2011. Accessed 13 November 2017.

³ Zaru, Deena. “Meek Mill’s prison sentence draws outrage, sparking a criminal justice debate.” CNN Politics. November 10, 2017. Accessed November 13, 2017.

Zaru, Deena. “Meek Mill’s prison sentence draws outrage, sparking a criminal justice debate.”

Second Piece:

“Recidivism.” National Institute of Justice. June 17, 2014. Accessed November 13, 2017.

Report of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on its mission to the United States of America

Durose, Matthew R., Alexia D. Cooper, and Howard N. Snyder, Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010(pdf, 31 pages), Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, April 2014, NCJ 244205.

Hunt, Kim Steven, and Robert Dumville. Recidivism among federal offenders: a comprehensive overview. United States Sentencing Commission, 2016.

Davis, Lois M., Robert Bozick, Jennifer L. Steele, Jessica Saunders, and Jeremy N. V. Miles. “Education and Vocational Training in Prisons Reduces Recidivism, Improves Job Outlook.” RAND Corporation. August 22, 2013. Accessed November 13, 2017.

“U.S. Department of Education Launches Second Chance Pell Pilot Program for Incarcerated Individuals.” U.S. Department of Education Launches Second Chance Pell Pilot Program for Incarcerated Individuals | U.S. Department of Education. July 31, 2015. Accessed November 13, 2017.

“Pennsylvania Department of Corrections”. Improved Reentry Education (IRE) Abstracts: Fiscal Year 2015. U.S. Department of Education. 2015. Accessed November 13, 2017.

Bell, Nicolette, et al. “Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Recidivism Report 2013.” (2013).

Haney, Lynne. “Familial Death and the Penal State”. 2016. pp. 20.

Haney, Lynne. “Familial Death and the Penal State”. 2016. pp. 29.

Piece 3

16 “City Wide Elections Results”

17 “Governor Wolf, Attorney General Shapiro Announce Launch of Reentry Council”

18 “Governor Wolf ‘Bans the Box’ on State Employee Applications”

19 “S.1994 – CORRECTIONS Act”


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