There’s a crisis in our country. And most of us have no idea it’s even happening. At its heart, recidivism is a person’s tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior, especially a relapse into criminal behavior. When it comes to criminal justice in the United States, for a long time, and largely is the case still today, penal codes are focused far more on punishment. When stepping away from the real world, it makes sense as a thought experiment — any rational human being would steer clear from crime altogether if the punishments are harsh enough. In the mind and on paper, this concept seems to make sense.
Unfortunately, the Bureau of Justice’s data paints a completely different picture. After decades of harsh punishments, extreme mandatory minimum sentences for first-time offenders, and a whole host of other issues, the reality is more complicated.
For one, you would expect someone who has endured incarceration to understand the penalties of committing a crime. But, a 2018 study update by the Bureau of Justice shows us that, on the state level, five out of six prisoners released ended up re-offending and going back to jail within nine years of release.
On the surface, this might seem like prison is insufficient — and we’ll dig into that. But what the numbers miss are people trying to live their lives within a broken system. We face a mental health crisis like none other, as state budgets for caring for the mentally ill have been slashed to the bone.
The problem is that when you try to break someone and take away every other option available to them, the likelihood that they will end up where they started increases exponentially. But just how did we get here?