Violent Criminals With Harsher Sentences Less Likely to Be Rearrested, Study Shows

By Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab
reporter
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.
September 9, 2021 Updated: September 9, 2021

Violent criminals in the United States were less likely to be rearrested if they spent more time in prison before release, a large, long-term study has shown.

Nearly 77 percent of people imprisoned for a violent crime were arrested again within 10 years of release. The rate was lower, though, for those who served harsher sentences than for those who served lighter ones, according to the study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BLS).

Of those who spent less than the median time in prison prior to release, 78.3 percent got rearrested. For those who served more than the median time, 66.4 percent were rearrested. Among those with the harshest sentences of more than 80 months, 57.5 percent were rearrested, according to the recently released report on the study (pdf).

The study followed a sample of 76,000 state prisoners selected from more than 400,000 released in 24 states in 2008. It saw more than four in five arrested again within a decade, recording nearly 2.2 million rearrests. Among those released, about a quarter were serving time for violent crimes.

The study also looked at sentencing data in 18 states, concluding that more than 60 percent of those released in 2008 ended up with another sentence within 10 years.

Among violent ex-cons, the most common reason for a rearrest was a public order offense, such as illegal gun possession, driving under the influence, probation or parole violation. Nearly two in three were busted for such a crime within a decade.

The second most common reason was a drug offense (36.3 percent) and the third was assault (35.4 percent). The distant fourth was car theft (22.1 percent).

Murderers were about twice as likely than others to be rearrested for murder, but overall, they were much more likely to get rearrested for a different, lesser offense.

Drug offenders were more likely than others to be rearrested for a drug offense, but 75 percent of them ended up rearrested for a different crime, more than a third of them for a violent crime.

Those who managed to avoid arrest in the first few years after release were progressively less likely to fall off the wagon later on. Among those not arrested in the years 1-3 after release, less than 15 percent were arrested in year 4. The percentage kept dropping to about 4 percent for those rearrested for the first time in year 10.

Prior to their release in 2008, nearly four in five of all the tracked prisoners were already arrested five times or more. The average number of prior arrests was over 12.

Most likely to be rearrested were those with the most prior arrests and those youngest (under 17) when first arrested in their lives, nearly 90 percent for both groups. But even among those with two or fewer prior arrests, nearly 60 percent were rearrested.

The study covered nearly 70 percent of prisoners released in 2008 and included all five of the most populous states, California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania. It didn’t include some other states with large populations, such as Illinois, North Carolina, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Tennessee.

Petr Svab
Petr Svab
reporter
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.