Arizona Town Hall: Why Do People Return to Prison?

Arizona has turned its attention to re-entry and recidivism of former prisoners.  One organization that is studying the issue is Arizona Town Hall. The following is taken from “Re-Entry and Recidivism” by Kevin Wright, PhD, Criminal Justice in Arizona 2018, Arizona Town Hall

Why do people return to prison?  Traditional explanations such as “crime as a choice” and “crime is all they know” don’t really get us that far.  In the summer of 2017, researchers from Arizona State University worked with incarcerated men to develop and implement a study that would ask them why they were in prison.  They completed 409 interviews in two months at the medium-security East Unit of the Arizona State Prison Complex at Florence. The report was shared with the Governor’s Office.

Early in the interview, the incarcerated men were asked:  Why do you think most people come back to prison. Several themes emerged:

  • 44% said a lack of resources or programming contributed to recidivism.  One respondent stated, “Because they are not adequately prepared for reentry into society, because they have not made successful and dedicated transformation from their old lifestyle to one that would keep them out of prison.”
  • 27% said drug and alcohol use.  As a respondent remarked, “A lot of felons have serious drug addiction problems. . . When addicts get out, there aren’t any affordable treatment options.”
  • The third most common theme was an inability to change thinking and behavior or resorting to comfort.  This was best captured by the respondent who said: “Lack of education, skills, and a desire to succeed. They stay in here for a long time, get complacent and [there isn’t] any real type of job training to teach them how to be successful. So, they revert back to crime (what they know) because they’re unprepared for society. … Prison isn’t much of a deterrent anymore when someone isn’t taught how to live.”
  • Other themes that emerged included lack of a support system/mentor (16 percent), lack of education (15 percent), money issues (14 percent), stigma (14 percent), and peers, neighborhood or family environment (12 percent).

62% of the 409 men interviewed were recidivists.  Compared to first time prisoners, they were more likely to believe they had a substance abuse problem (52% to 35%) and more likely to not know where they would live upon release (31% to 17%).  They were statistically significantly more likely to report needing assistance with obtaining identification, transportation, housing, childcare, family and friend support, meals, employment, mentorship, substance abuse, healthcare and religious services.

If you are a former prisoner and facing new charges, you need an experienced defense attorney to represent you. Attorney Gary Rohlwing has over three decades of experience representing former prisoners facing new charges. Please call him today for a free consultation.

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