Illinois prison recidivism rate above national average

April 13, 2011

This Intelligence Report looks at the high percentage of ex-convicts who end up back in state prison.

There are 45,000 men and women serving time in Illinois state prisons, according to a new national study of repeat offenders by the Pew Center on the States. More than half of them will end up back in prison within three years of being released.

That is not only a public safety threat, according to investigators, it is a sizeable cost that could be cut in a state that is currently broke.

Illinois spent more than $1.25 billion last year and employed 11,000 people in the Department of Corrections.

But, for more than half of all prison inmates, correcting their behavior didn't last long. According to this study of recidivism, "The Revolving Door of America's Prisons," Illinois prisoners commit new crimes or violate parole at an alarming rate: 51.7 percent of Illinois inmates return to prison within three years.

And, while that is down slightly from 2003, the Illinois recidivism rate is still much higher than the national average and the rates for other Midwestern states.

For legislators, state prison officials, and taxpayers there is a cost attached to those numbers. According to Pew researchers, if Illinois cut its repeat offense rate by just 10 percent, it would save the taxpayers an estimated $40 million.

Oregon had the lowest return-to-prison rate. just 22 percent. That is less than half of Illinois. The highest return-to-prison rate in the nation is Minnesota at more than 61 percent.

Illinois has several programs now in place aimed at stopping repeat offenders. But those cost money, and at a time when the governor and state legislators are under pressure to slash spending, expanding those programs may be a hard sell.

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