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December 2010

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Study on Re-arrest Data to Hone Probation Strategies

A recent, first-of-its-kind study of federal offenders shows less than a quarter are re-arrested after three years under supervision. Probation officers will use this and other data collected in the study—along with annual updates— to evaluate the effectiveness of federal supervision at reducing recidivism, and thus improving community safety. The objective is to measure not only what the federal probation and pretrial services system does, but how well they do it.

(click to enlarge)

Arrest Rates for Serious Offenses by Year for Probation and Terms of Supervised Release Offenders

Arrest Rates for Serious Offenses by Year for Probation and Terms of Supervised Release Offenders

Arrest Rates for Serious Offenses by Year and Offense Category

  % of Offenders with Arrest
Offense Category 1 Year
2 Years
3 Years
Drugs 2.9% 5.1% 6.9%
Violence 2.4% 4.2% 5.7%
Property 2.4% 4.0% 5.2%
Unknown 0.7% 1.1% 1.3%
Immigration 0.5% 0.7% 0.8%
Escape/Obstruction 0.4% 0.6% 0.7%
Firearms 0.3% 0.5% 0.6%
Sex Offense 0.3% 0.4% 0.5%
Public Order 0.2% 0.4% 0.5%
Other 0.2% 0.3% 0.4%
Total 10.3% 17.1% 22.6%

At the request of the Office of Probation and Pretrial Services, Administrative Office, an independent research firm analyzed data for 185,297 offenders from every federal probation office who began their supervision terms between October 1, 2004 and August 13, 2009.

The study, unprecedented in its size, summarizes arrest rates and identifies the offenses of these offenders, excluding minor offenses and technical violations of the conditions of supervision. For federal offenders in the community for three years the re-arrest rate is less than 25 percent. Analogous figures for state systems are significantly higher.

For this study, the re-arrest rates represent the first re-arrest of the offender’s period of supervision.

The study showed that:

  • Less than 11 percent of offenders were arrested within the first year;
  • About 17 percent were arrested within two years; and
  • Almost 23 percent were arrested within three years of beginning supervision.

Overall, offenders in the study who served terms of supervised release following imprisonment (TSR) had a higher overall re-arrest rate than probationers over a three-year period. This may be, the study noted, because offenders serving TSR have more extensive criminal records and other characteristics that put them at elevated risk to recidivate, when compared with offenders serving terms of probation. Approximately 80 percent of persons under federal supervision are serving terms of supervised release.

Most re-arrests of federal offenders were for drug offenses, followed by violence and property offenses, whether it was one-, two-, or three-years under supervision. This was true regardless of whether the offender was serving TSR or probation.

  • A term of supervised release is imposed by the court during sentencing in addition to the sentence of imprisonment. The supervision term is served after a person is released from prison. Approximately 80 percent of federal offenders on supervision are serving terms of supervised release.
  • In probation the court releases the person directly to the community for a period of supervision.

The recidivism studies provide a framework for evaluating the effectiveness of federal supervision and will ultimately help inform policymakers about practices that are most effective at reducing recidivism. “The goal of supervision is both community protection and the successful completion by the offender of the term of supervision or probation,” said Judge Robert Holmes Bell, chair of the Judicial Conference Criminal Law Committee. “This and future studies will us tell more about recidivism, and who is most vulnerable. With that information, we can hone strategies and improve our supervision.”

The complete study, “Re-Arrest Rates and Offenses of Offenders on Federal Probation and Supervised Release,” can be read online in the December 2010 issue of Federal Probation Journal at http://www.uscourts.gov/FederalCourts/ProbationPretrialServices.aspx.