2015 Runner Up: Paying for Success in Community Corrections

[tab name=”Media Coverage”]Governing magazine: The Pay-for-Performance Approach to Reducing Recidivism[/tab][end_tabset]

In spite of aggressive efforts to successfully rehabilitate inmates, national rates of recidivism have not declined over the past ten years as rates of incarceration have increased. A 2014 report published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that two-thirds of prisoners are rearrested, and over half return to prison within three years of release. The result has been an explosion in the prison population and a burdening of state resources.

Nowhere has this trend been more evident than in the state of Pennsylvania. A 2009 study by the University of Cincinnati found that in Pennsylvania, parolees who went directly home after prison actually had lower rates of recidivism than those who enrolled in halfway houses operated by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC). The failure of the PA community corrections system is all the more shocking given how PA DOC throws more than $100 million into residential halfway housing annually.

Kiminori Nakamura, professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland, and Kristofer Bret Bucklen, director of the Bureau of Planning, Research, and Statistics at the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, present an innovative approach to this issue: successfully restructuring the agreement between corrections and contracted community facilities to put recidivism reduction at the center of this partnership.

Nakamura and Bucklen propose a new system, centered on performance-based contracts. These three-year contracts, with possible two-year extensions, are issued on the condition that each center maintains a baseline recidivism rate. A criminal risk assessment of the inmate population is taken into account when developing the individual standards for each center. If a center’s recidivism rate falls below the baseline during a six month period, it receives a 1% increase in reimbursement during the following six-month period. Likewise, if a center’s recidivism rate rises above the baseline for two straight periods, the contract is cancelled. Nakamura and Bucklen’s plan also emphasizes the importance of maximizing the discharge rate for each center– making sure that centers are committed to successfully rehabilitating and eventually releasing all of their residents, not just a select few.

In 2011, the US Department of Justice granted Nakamura a researcher-practitioner partnership to allow him to implement his plan within the PA DOC. The results were astonishing: the overall recidivism rate for community contract facilities decreased by 16.4% during the first marking period: nearly four times the rate of reduction seen in comparable state-operated facilities during the same period of time. This represents 58 parolees who did not fall back into a life of crime.

There are no significant costs to this system—and any costs of the successful community contract facilities are offset by the savings achieved by having fewer parolees returning to prison. As other states assess channels through which to reduce their prison populations and eliminate the revolving door of repeat offenders, officials should consider adopting this unique approach that makes performance incentives the driver of success in community corrections.

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