CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginians who have served their time for crimes are less likely to return to prison than similar individuals in most other states, a new study by Justice and Community Services researchers suggests.
The research team tracked adults for three years following their release from West Virginia prisons and jails on parole, upon completion of their sentences or through court orders. Of those 3,156 individuals, 923 were charged with new crimes or saw their parole revoked within those three years.
That 29.25 percent “recidivism” rate for 2016 releases is slightly higher than the rate measured last year for 2015 releases, which was just under 28 percent. But this latest study marks the ninth consecutive year that this annual look-back found the recidivism rate to be below 30 percent.
Those rates compare favorably with that of most other states, which similarly track released offenders for three years to gauge recidivism. Figures compiled by Virginia’s Department of Corrections ranked West Virginia as having the third-lowest recidivism rate among 42 states with comparable figures earlier this year. Virginia and South Carolina had tied for first in that review.
The Office of Research and Strategic Planning conducted West Virginia’s latest recidivism study. The office is part of the Justice and Community Services section of the Department of Homeland Security’s Division of Administrative Services. The study relied on data from DHS’ Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which operates the state’s prisons and jails.
“This report is a helpful tool for DCR, highlighting various offender populations and crime categories that have an impact on recidivism,” said Mobolaji O. “Bola” Otunuga, a Ph.D. and director of the ORSP. “By focusing on these categories through targeted programming and treatment, DCR can further reduce the recidivism rate.”
Parole revocations accounted for 58 percent of the recidivism rate, with 41.5 percent resulting from new criminal offenses. Nearly 88 percent of those released in 2016 were white, while nearly 11 percent were Black. The recidivism rate among white offenders was nearly 30 percent, compared with nearly 24 percent for Black offenders.
Nearly half of all who re-offended did so within one year of their release. That suggests a one-year recidivism rate of 14 percent. Among all the individuals released in 2016, nearly 21 percent had been convicted of drug-related offenses and their recidivism rate was 24 percent. Another 15 percent of those released served time for burglary or breaking and entering, while their recidivism rate was 42 percent.
The ORSP team also measured the recidivism rate among offenders who took part in a Residential Substance Abuse Treatment program while in prison or jail. Their rate was slightly higher than the overall rate, or around 29.5 percent, that report shows.
“The reason for the RSATs’ higher rate is not completely known,” the latest report said. “It may be because in order to participate in the program, an inmate needs to be assessed as ‘high risk to recidivate.’”
Homeland Security Secretary Jeff Sandy touted the Getting Over Addictive Lifestyles Successfully (GOALS) program, a new inpatient treatment-diversion initiative now operating at two regional jails that Sandy estimates has saved counties $2.1 million in incarceration costs. Sandy also cited Gov. Jim Justice’s championing of training programs for convicted felons.
“We now have over 250 educational and training programs in our prisons,” Sandy said. “The governor believes the best way to keep felons from breaking the law is with a good job.”
Among its efforts, DCR hosts re-entry simulations to prepare inmates slated for release and trains faculty for the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice selected the Saint Marys Correctional Center as the site for its new training film on offender re-entry.
“West Virginia corrections has received national recognition for its emphasis on rehabilitation and re-entry,” Corrections Commissioner Betsy Jividen said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has placed limits on some of these programs, but DCR is poised to resume those as soon as possible.”