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Seven Things to Know About Repeat Offenders

A new report looks at recidivism among inmates released from federal prisons.

Of all the mind-numbing statistics thrown about in the criminal justice system, perhaps none is more important than the recidivism rate – the likelihood that someone who broke the law once will do it again after being set free. This is the number that tells us who we would be wise to keep locked up, and who is (statistically) safe to send home. This is the number that tells us whether prisons are doing their job, making us safer.

Wednesday the U.S. Sentencing Commission released the results of a major study of all 25,431 federal offenders released in 2005. For the most part it reaffirms the conventional wisdom of criminologists: older offenders and those with more education are less likely to return to a life of crime. The single best indicator of whether an ex-offender will become a re-offender is the length and seriousness of his rap sheet. But these conclusions bear repeating, since they offer some guidance to policy-makers, who are mostly not criminologists.

Here are a few highlights:

The Sentencing Commission promises to roll out a series of reports diving deeper into their new data.