Criminal Recidivism Rates Exposed

Jason Morris

Recently a long awaited study was published on the recidivism rates of ex-criminals in the United States.  This study known in our industry as the “Blumstein Study” examined New York State Arrest records for more than 88,000 individuals who were first arrested in 1980.  Their recidivism rates were followed for 27 years through 2007.  The study which was published in the Journal of Criminology was conducted by Carnegie Mellon Professor Alfred Blumstein and Co-Author Kiminori Nakamura.

To summarize the report, ex-offenders do in fact have a high rate of recidivism within the first five years after arrest.  However, the study suggests that for offenders who “stay clean” for five years or more are much less likely to get arrested.  They suggest that after five years they are almost as likely to commit a crime as the rest of the general population of the United States.

The study is timely and important for many reasons.  First, the Obama administration has made it a point to break down those barriers for individuals who have committed crimes to gain employment.  Secondly, the EEOC has a mission to ensure a disparate class of ex-offenders is not created in the Untied States.  The problem is that the study has a lot of holes.

Noted employment screening industry experts and members of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS)  have commented on this study for months.   This week  Security Management Magazine published a great article on the topic.  One well respected expert concluded that because the study was limited to New York state it fails to find those criminals who may have committed crimes in other states.  Blumstein acknowledges this and expects that might lead to a 10 percent increase in the risk findings after that data is added.  The same expert also notes that because the study only looks at arrests and not convictions the true sample size is greatly reduced.

In my opinion these industry experts are spot on! Having examined the findings of the study I find even more shortcomings.  First, what are the parallels between major crimes and minor ones.  Meaning, how does the recidivism rate for someone convicted of Armed Robbery compare to someone convicted of Petty Theft? Secondly, the study is only able to track the rate of crimes re-committed that the individual has been caught committing.  Many times employees are simply fired and never prosecuted for breaking the law.  Lastly, in the pre-employment screening world, many times we are very concerned with “white collar” crimes.  There is no data on crimes committed at the Federal District Court level.  These crimes could include embezzlement, bank fraud, kidnapping etc..  These are only three examples of where I feel the study falls short.  I will reserve further comments because I feel an article brewing in my head and I don’t want to give it all away here!

In conclusion, the study is very important.  It would have had a huge impact on the recent El Vs. SEPTA case, had it been published a few years back.  It’s also important because it could pose a great defense to employers being sued under the Negligent Hiring doctrine.  What we do know is this; the current administration has made the “ex-offender in the workplace” issue a priority to solve.  The question is do employers want the government telling them which perspective employees are a risk enough to take?

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Jason Morris

President & Chief Operating Officer at EmployeeScreenIQ
A veteran screening and risk management professional, Jason Morris founded EmployeeScreenIQ in 1999 and acts as the company’s chief operating officer and president. Morris is a frequent speaker delivering captivating, interactive discussions on background checks, global screening, recruitment and staffing. He educates audiences in best practice initiatives as they relate to organizational employment screening programs. Morris has been quoted in numerous business and industry publications including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, USA Today, New York Times, among others. He is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey, Texas, Arizona and Nevada.
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