AMU Corrections Legal Studies Original Public Safety

Recidivism: Re-Integrating Non-Violent Offenders into Society

Note: This is the first article in a series on recividism in different countries.

Recidivism — the tendency of convicted criminals to commit offenses again — is a problem in the United States and around the world. According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, the United States “releases over 7 million people from jail and more than 600,000 people from prison each year.” The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion also notes that of those offenders who are released from incarceration, two of three people are rearrested and over 50% are incarcerated again within three years of their release.

[Related: How the VADOC has Reduced Recidivism Using the Cognitive Community Model]

Many Former Prisoners Are Left Without Opportunities or Resources Upon Release

The problem for prisoners that are released in the lack of opportunities and resources that are available for them upon their release. Often, convicted offenders return after doing their time in prison to the communities and impoverished areas that initially influenced their criminal behavior. According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, former prisoners are 129 times more likely than the general public to die due to a drug overdose within the two weeks following their release from prison.

How to Lower Recidivism Rates and Help Non-Violent Offenders to Receive What They Need

To gain a deeper understanding of lowering recidivism rates and ways to successfully help non-violent offenders receive the training and education needed to better integrate into society and to avoid returning to prison, I consulted my colleague, Dr. Michael Pittaro.

Start a Criminal Justice degree at American Military University.

He is an expert on prisons and has substantial experience in corrections administration. Dr. Pittaro has also served as the Executive Director of an outpatient drug and alcohol facility and as Executive Director of a drug and alcohol prevention agency. He is a consultant both in the United States and abroad on topics related to prison issues and other criminal justice topics.

Dr. Pittaro says that “there are many internal and external variables at play that could heavily influence an offender’s decision to re-engage in crime. One of the most powerful influences is an extensive history of substance abuse. Detoxing from the physical effects of substance abuse are challenging enough, but the psychological influence that grips most addicts is likely far more powerful.

“Therefore, it is important to have non-violent offenders focus on developing/improving their resiliency/coping skills, which will equip them with the therapeutic tools and resources necessary to combat the strong desires/urges to resort to drugs and/or alcohol. It is imperative that offenders acknowledge and confront vulnerable, yet powerfully influential emotions such as depression, anxiety, frustration, low self-confidence, and stress through socially appropriate coping mechanisms.”

Mental Illness and Its Impact on Recidivism

Mental illness is an issue within the prison population and has an impact on recidivism. The Prison Policy Initiative found that 37% of inmates in state and federal prisons have been diagnosed with a mental illness, and mental illness exists in up to 44% of those in locally run jails.

[Related: Rethinking the Purpose of the Criminal Justice System: Reducing Recidivism]

The Prison Policy Initiative also found that one in four people experience serious psychological distress in jails. In response to the issue of mental illness in the prison population, Dr. Pittaro observes that “the same advice regarding confronting powerful emotions would apply to those offenders with a history of mental illness, especially if the psychological disorder adversely affects or has directly contributed to the offender’s ability to refrain from crime.

“Self-control is critical. Offenders must learn how to control their thoughts, behaviors and subsequent actions. We equip them with the tools, but they — and only they — can create the change they need in their lives.”

Vocational Training and Staying Busy Is Beneficial for Non-Violent Offenders

To help offenders succeed in society once they are released, Dr. Pittaro notes that “once the addiction and mental illness are under control, the focus should then turn to vocational training and education, especially since obtaining and maintaining sustainable employment has been shown to be a protective factor. Idle time is not healthy for most offenders who have a propensity of engaging in risky, often criminal, behaviors if they have too much time on their hands.

“Studies have shown that maintaining employment and pursuing a GED or college degree can improve self-esteem and confidence. The more that an offender has to lose, the less likely they are to recidivate.”

We Should Make Every Effort to Help Former Inmates Re-Integrate into Society

Nelson Mandela stated that “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” It is important for every effort to be made to support the successful re-integration of prison inmates.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor at American Military University and has over two decades in the field of homeland security. His expertise includes human trafficking, maritime security and narcotics trafficking trends. Jarrod recently conducted in-country research in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in human and narcotics trafficking. Jarrod can be reached through his website at for more information.

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