Throughout the decades, corrections officials and community
organizations have tried a multitude of tactics to keep the
offenders they release from returning to their prisons.
Today, researchers know which approaches don't work - such as
shaming offenders, self-help programs and punishment tactics like
boot camp. But they're also beginning to understand much more fully
what does work, with empirical evidence to back it up.
As Oklahoma continues to study criminal justice reform and ways
to reduce recidivism, leaders in the effort received a lesson
Wednesday from Ed Latessa, a criminal justice professor and
researcher from Ohio. His visit dovetails with Oklahoma's Justice
Reinvestment Initiative announced earlier this summer and this
fall's effective date for House Bill 2131, which expands the use of
community sentencing programs and increases GPS monitoring of low-
Oklahoma leads the nation in the number of women incarcerated and
is third nationwide in the number of men in prison.
The system doesn't hold up under that trajectory, said House
Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, who has been a legislative leader in
the reform process.
"One of the statistics that has jumped out at me is that Oklahoma
has increased its appropriation to the Department of Corrections by
well over 30 percent, yet in that same period of time, our violent
crime rate has increased," Steele said. "I'm told that 36 other
states have experienced a decrease in violent crime rates. It
indicates that what we're doing right now is obviously not working."
Latessa said a strategy on reducing recidivism must be rooted in
a body of evidence-based research, not anecdotal evidence that may
make people feel good but isn't necessarily effective. He compared
it to people's belief about smoking: Most everyone believes it is
bad for health because of the wealth of research that says it is.
No studies show that punishment alone consistently reduces
recidivism, Latessa said. That doesn't mean that people shouldn't be
incarcerated; it means that prison time alone won't keep them from
reoffending, he said.
"I'm willing to bet that if you go to any jail in the state of
Oklahoma, 80 percent of people in those jails on any given day have
been there before," he said. "If it works so well, why do they keep
The good news, Latessa said, is that 40-60 percent of studies of
correctional treatment services show reduced recidivism. The bad
news is that 40-60 percent don't work.
The key is finding programs that work, and sticking with them,
because poor programs are worse than none at all, Latessa said. The
most effective interventions are behavioral and action-oriented, he
said, because they focus on current risk factors, not the past.
"The reason is quite simple: I can't change the past," he said. …