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August 2011

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Retroactivity Did Not Affect Recidivism


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Recidivism Rate Over Time by 2007 Crack Cocaine Amendment and Comparison Groups

Three years after the first crack cocaine offenders were released pursuant to retroactive application of the 2007 Crack Cocaine Amendment, a study shows no statistically significant difference in recidivism rates between those whose sentences were reduced and those serving their full prison terms. The amendment, which became effective November 1, 2007, lowered the base offense level for crack cocaine by two levels. The complete study is available on the Sentencing Commission's webpage (www.ussc.gov, Materials on Federal Cocaine Offenses). 

The U.S. Sentencing Commission analyzed the impact on recidivism rates of sentence reductions after courts were authorized to modify the sentence of offenders incarcerated on or after March 3, 2008. Of the 25,515 motions for retroactive application of the 2007 amendment received, 16,433, or 64.4 percent, were granted and 9,082 denied. Most applicants, 7,665 of the 9,082, were legally ineligible. The average decrease in sentences among those crack cocaine offenders was 26 months. Some offenders were released almost immediately or in the first few months after the effective date.

Of the group who benefited from the 2007 Crack Cocaine Amendment group, 30.4 percent of the crack cocaine offenders re-offended within two years.  In the comparison group of crack cocaine offenders who were released too early to benefit from the retroactive application of the amendment, 32.6 percent of the offenders re-offended within two years.

Of the 25,515 motions for retroactive application of the 2007 amendment received, 16,433 or 64.4 percent were granted and 9,082 denied. Most applicants, 7,665 of the 9,082, were legally ineligible.

Offenders in the two groups re-offended at similar rates and in similar ways. Offenders in both groups were re-arrested for the same crime types, with roughly 20 percent of re-arrests in both groups for drug possession. Recidivism rates for both groups also climbed steadily throughout the two-year period.

For the study, recidivism was defined as, within a two-year period following release, a reconviction for a new offense, a re-arrest with no case disposition information available, or a revocation of an offender's supervised release.

In the 2007 Crack Cocaine Amendment group, new arrests occurred in 23.2 percent of the cases, and revocations only were recorded in 7.2 percent. In the comparison group, new arrests occurred in 25 percent of cases, and revocations were recorded in 7.6 percent.

The two crack cocaine offender groups also have a comparable mix of criminal histories. The Sentencing Commission ranks Criminal History from Category I to Category VI, with Category VI the most substantial prior criminal record. In each group, approximately 30 percent of the crack cocaine offenders are in CHC IV through VI, which indicates that many crack cocaine offenders had substantial criminal records. Recidivism rates are strongly influenced by criminal history. Offenders with more past crimes, and more serious crimes, are more likely to re-offend.

Recidivism Rate by Criminal History Category

  2007 Amendment Group Comparison Group
Criminal History Category I 18.2% 20.6%
Criminal History Category II 27.5% 28.2%
Criminal History Category III 35.5% 33.1%
Criminal History Category IV 32.8% 45.8%
Criminal History Category V 43.1% 45.9%
Criminal History Category VI 44.3% 50.0%

The average length of the original sentence imposed on crack cocaine offenders in the 2007 Crack Cocaine Amendment group was 107.4 months, and comparable to the average length of the sentences imposed on the comparison group, 97 months. After sentence modification, the 2007 amendment group served 80 percent of the original sentence less earned credits, and the comparison group served 100 percent of the original sentence less earned credits.