George Mason University Inmate Recidivism Study


In the summer of 2002, Dr. June Tangney (GMU) and Dr. Jeffrey Stuewig (GMU) began a large-scale recidivism study of inmates in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center (Study 1). Recidivism refers to a person's relapse into criminal behavior. Participants were approximately 650 male and female inmates held on felony charges. About 500 are being followed further – interviewed at one, four and seven years post release. To date, 346 have participated in a follow-up interview at one-year post-release, 361 have participated in the four-year post-release follow-up and 80 have participated in the seven-year post-release follow-up.

The GMU research team's post-release findings:

  • 58% of study participants (all charged with felonies) reported no arrests on new charges during the year following incarceration at the Adult Detention Center.
  • Alcohol and drug abuse decreased significantly in the year post-release, compared to the year prior to incarceration.
  • HIV risk behavior decreased significantly in the year post-release, compared to the year prior to incarceration.
  • Individuals whose substance use decreased between the year prior to incarceration and the year post-incarceration were less likely to be arrested.

The GMU research team continues to analyze the massive amount of data from Study 1. A summary of the study was published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology (Vol. 26, No. 1, 2007, pp. 1-21).

In 2009, GMU began a second study of inmates at the Adult Detention Center (Study 2). The purpose of Study 2 is to scientifically evaluate novel short-term interventions for jail inmates nearing release. This includes Opportunities, Alternatives and Resources (OAR) Impact of Crime workshop and Motivational Interviews, used successfully in community-based drug treatment centers, but which have not yet been adapted for use with jail inmates. The study will involve a total of 200 male inmates from the Adult Detention Center. To date, 168 inmates have been successfully recruited and assessed and have completed treatment. The research team is currently following up on participants with interviews at three and 12 months post-release to determine rates of recidivism, substance dependence and HIV risk behavior. The purpose is to find out the degree to which former inmates are successfully integrating back into the community. Jail-based assessment and treatment of inmate participants in the project is expected to be complete in summer 2012.

Soon thereafter, GMU will start another study examining whether certain novel programs can be adapted so as to reach a greater number of individuals in a more timely fashion. The ultimate goal is to establish programs that will reduce disciplinary infractions within the jail and criminal behavior outside the jail. Dr. Tangney's research team hopes that the findings will generate new federal and state resources for the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center and Pre-Release Center/Alternative Incarceration Branch by showing decreased recidivism and enhanced adjustment in the community.

Summary of Study 1 Findings

While incarcerated at the Adult Detention Center, the inmates improved in several ways:

  • Decreased in “criminogenic?? thinking.
  • Improved in attitudes toward authority.
  • Slightly decreased in psychological symptoms (e.g. anxiety, depression, paranoia).
  • Slightly increased in perceived problems associated with alcohol and drug use as inmates became more aware of substance-related issues.
  • Decreased in use of illegal substances in the year post-incarceration relative to the year pre-incarceration.

Most participants received the following services, which likely contributed to these changes:

  • Psychological, Social and Behavioral Services: Although participants were incarcerated for only an average of six months, 83% enrolled in some sort of program, often several.
    • 58% religious services
    • 47% other religious programs
    • 36% education
    • 34% psychosocial interventions
    • 32% substance abuse treatment
    • 11% forensic services
  • Medical Services: All inmates receive a medical exam upon incarceration. For many, this was the first medical exam in years, resulting in the detection of treatable acute and chronic conditions. Consequently, many received further treatment.

Regarding delivery of services, the Adult Detention Center is effective at strategically deploying available resources:

  • The rate of psychological problems among inmates is high – 56%, excluding substance dependence and antisocial personality disorder. Most common were symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (33%), borderline personality disorder (30%), mania (21%), and depression (17%). Of those with clinically significant symptoms, many received some sort of forensic service (crisis intervention, assessment, group therapy, medication, or forensic housing) or psychosocial intervention (OAR).
  • A large percentage of participants (61.5%) reported serious substance dependence problems in the year prior to incarceration. Many enrolled in some sort of substance abuse treatment while at the Adult Detention Center.
  • Delivery of services appears to be “color-blind.?? Unlike nearly every setting studied in the community, African-Americans are equally likely as white inmates to request and receive treatment at the Adult Detention Center.
  • Participants expressed favorable attitudes toward volunteers, with most feeling that services provided by volunteers would help them stay out of jail in the future.

But, availability of services is not nearly enough to meet the need:

  • 62% of individuals with clinically significant psychological distress did not receive treatment.
  • Of individuals referred for dual diagnosis mental health and substance abuse treatment programs, most must wait 1-2 months.
  • Of individuals who request the volunteer-run 12-step substance abuse programs, most must wait 3-4 months.

Jail behavior:

  • By multiple measures, the Adult Detention Center appears to be a safe, well-run environment. Inmate misconduct is met with immediate consequences.
  • 40% of participants were cited for at least one infraction; 31% had formal charges against them and 8% had physical charges against them.
  • Inmates report virtually no drug or alcohol use at the Adult Detention Center. (Most correctional studies find that a substantial percentage of the inmates report drug and alcohol use during incarceration.)
  • The Adult Detention Center’s classification checklist effectively identifies inmates at risk for misconduct. Classification scores are correlated with measures of psychopathy, antisocial personality disorder and violence risk.
  • Classification scores, however, were very modestly predictive of actual jail misconduct, reflecting the fact that high risk inmates are identified and assigned to appropriate housing.
  • The 25-item Criminogenic Cognitions Scale, developed in partnership with OAR, is a powerful predictor of inmate misconduct as well as post-release success. Thus, the measure may be useful in augmenting the existing risk assessment. On the other hand, the Violence Risk Appraisal Guide, considered the “gold standard?? for assessing violence risk, significantly predicted jail misconduct among male inmates but was found to be useless in predicting jail misconduct among female inmates.
  • Examining the usefulness of moral emotions (capacity to experience shame and guilt) in predicting jail misconduct:
    • Inmates’ capacity to feel guilt about bad behaviors (assessed shortly upon entry into the jail) predicted fewer incidents of jail misconduct and lower rates of recidivism in the first year post-release.
    • The propensity to experience shame about the self did not seem to inhibit misconduct while incarcerated, nor did it inhibit recidivism post-release.
    • These findings suggest that efforts to increase the capacity for guilt (for example, via the Impact of Crime workshop) may be useful not only in reducing post-release recidivism, but also in reducing problem behaviors during incarceration.

Post-release desistance:

  • 58% of study participants (all charged with felonies) reported no arrests on new charges during the year following incarceration at the Adult Detention Center.
  • Alcohol and drug abuse decreased significantly in the year post-release, compared to the year prior to incarceration.
  • HIV risk behavior decreased significantly in the year post-release, compared to the year prior to incarceration.
  • Individuals whose substance use decreased between the year prior to incarceration and the year post-incarceration were less likely to be arrested.

For more information about the study, please email Dr. June Tangney at George Mason University.

 


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