Utah's recidivism rate decreases, but still above national average

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Utah recidivism rate
  • 1999 - 2002: 65.8 percent
  • 2004 - 2007: 53.7 percent

SALT LAKE CITY -- A new report on recidivism rates at prisons nationwide has some surprising findings for Utah.

Utah's percentage of convicts returning to prison three years after their release in the past decade has decreased considerably. But the numbers from 1999 to 2002 were very high.

The Pew Public Safety Performance Project found in that three-year time-span, 65.8 percent of prisoners in the Utah system ended up back in prison at some point. From 2004 to 2007, the percentage was 53.7 percent.

When excluding California, whose size skews the national picture, recidivism rates between 1994 and 2007 have consistently remained around 40 percent.

Minnesota now leads the nation instead of Utah, with 61.2 percent of prisoners returned. Minnesota says its high percentage may be the result of an effort to track the issue more closely.

The report found that of 33 states that reported data for both 1999 and 2004 releases, recidivism rates fell in 17 states and climbed in 15 states. One state reported no change.

Nationally the recidivism rate barely changed from the two periods, from 45 percent to 43 percent. The study's director, Adam Gelb, says it's not for a lack of spending on the problem.


"One in 14 of their general fund dollars are spent on corrections. But inmates are just as likely to cycle through the revolving door as they were before, so that's not a solid public safety return on investment," he said.

Annual state prison costs in the 1980s totaled around $10 billion. The Pew report says that number has grown to about $52 billion.

While Utah's numbers have decreased, some other states are seeing dramatic increases. For example, in South Dakota the return rate rose 35 percent. Washington state saw a 31 percent increase.

Gelb said it doesn't matter how much states spend. He thinks high prisoner return rates will continue until states better prepare prisoners for re-entry into society.

He also raised the idea of creating incentives for corrections officials to find solutions other than prison for non-violent offenders.

Story written with contributions from Andrew Adams and The Associated Press.

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