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Just the Facts: Post-Conviction Supervision and Recidivism

Just the Facts is a feature that highlights issues and trends in the Judiciary based on data collected by the Judiciary Data and Analysis Office (JDAO) of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Comments, questions, and suggestions can be sent to the data team.

In the federal judicial system, recidivism among people on post-conviction supervision is down, and signs of rehabilitation in that population are increasing.

Background

On any given day, more than 130,000 people convicted of federal offenses are serving terms of probation, parole, or supervised release. Federal probation officers are required to monitor and help improve the conduct of those people by using a variety of social work, treatment, and law enforcement strategies that are consistent with the conditions of supervision imposed by the court. The desired outcome is that the person under supervision desists from criminal and anti-social behavior. The opposite is recidivism, when the person under supervision commits new crimes or otherwise violates the conditions of supervision. 

Recidivism can be measured in different ways, but for the purposes of this report it is defined as a person under supervision incurring: (1) a felony-level new charge or (2) a revocation of supervision by the court for noncompliance. A conviction is not required for the new charge because disposition data is not always available. Only felonies are considered because misdemeanors and infractions are not uniformly reported, and what constitutes such an offense in one jurisdiction may not be a crime in another -- for example, possession of marijuana for personal use.

This report focuses on trends in recidivism among persons who entered federal supervision from fiscal years 2005 through 2016, and follows them for three years, which is about the average length of a federal supervision term.

Facts and Figures:

The trends in recidivism are the result of the federal probation system’s consistent effort to apply evidence-based principles to policy and practice decisions.

Chart 1

Source: Post-Conviction Chiefs and Deputy Chiefs Administrative Meeting (CDAM) Reports for Persons Under Supervision FY 2004 – FY 2016.

Chart 2

Source: Post-Conviction Chiefs and Deputy Chiefs Administrative Meeting (CDAM) Reports for Persons Under Supervision FY 2005 – FY 2013.

Chart 3

Source: Post-Conviction Chiefs and Deputy Chiefs Administrative Meeting (CDAM) Reports for Persons Under Supervision FY 2005 – FY 2013, and Crime in the United States, FBI, CY 2005-CY 2016, https://www2.fbi.gov/[YEAR=xx]cius, accessed online 7/9/2018.

Chart 4

Source: Cohen, Thomas H., Christopher T. Lowenkamp, and Scott W. VanBenschoten. Examining Changes in Offender Risk Characteristics and Recidivism Outcomes: A Research Summary. 80 Federal Probation 2:57-65.3


1 Johnson, James, Christopher T. Lowenkamp, Scott W. VanBenschoten, Charles R. Robinson (2011), The Construction and Validation of the Federal Post Conviction Risk Assessment (PCRA) 75 Federal Probation 2 (P. 3).

2 Cohen, Thomas H., Christopher T. Lowenkamp, Scott W. VanBenschoten (2016), Examining Changes in Offender Risk Characteristics and Recidivism Outcomes: A Research Summary 80 Federal Probation 2 (P. 57).

3 This is a simplified version of a more complex model that can be seen in Cohen, et al.