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Behind Bars: Abysmal recidivism rate points to a broken system

By Brian Wood - | Mar 14, 2016

There has been a lot of talk about Adult Probation and Parole, halfway houses, fugitives, etc., as of late. This recent attention was most likely sparked by the tragic death of an officer at the hands of a fugitive.

Watching the news in prison is an odd thing. It’s really interesting being on the other side of things, so to speak. I never really thought about how much crime dominates the headlines, but each night there seems to be another criminal on the news and someone in here who knows him or her, usually from “doing time” with the person. The reality is most of the guys committing crimes and getting arrested are not first-time offenders.

Just the other day, I observed a couple of guys embrace with the greeting, “Hey buddy, I saw you on the news and figured I was going to see you soon.”

We, the prison population, witness others getting released who plan on picking up right where they left off. We all know they will be back. Sometimes the Board of Pardons and Parole does the exact opposite of what we think should happen and leaves us scratching our heads. Some inmates believe a conspiracy exists in which the Board releases prisoners it can count on reoffending and returning, while retaining those who are thought to have little chance of coming back.

As for me, I don’t believe there’s a concerted effort to keep inmates the system thinks will succeed or release guys it assumes will return. I think the cause of this theory is that those particular instances in which we are dumbfounded by decisions are talked about more and brought to everyone’s attention.

The one thing I am sure of is that the system is broken. A depressingly low number of Utah parolees complete successfully, and that’s not even considering guys who complete parole and come back to prison with new charges.

Why does Utah have such an abysmal recidivism rate? I don’t know the answer to that.

Most of the time when you see convicts running away from half-way houses or on the news with new charges, we, the prison population, aren’t the least bit surprised. You really don’t hear, “I can’t believe he did that, I thought for sure he was going straight.”

It would be somewhat faux pas for me to say I wish the Board of Pardons and Parole could know the things that the inmates know, but I can say it would be nice if they could factor in information, good and bad, from floor officers here at the DOC. There are good people stuck here who have changed their lives and are doing everything they can to become better, but there is no system in place for the Board to see and recognize the huge strides they have made.

Conversely, it is frustrating to see prisoners going home who we all know will be coming right back. This further tainting the reputation of parolees, and unfortunately (and more importantly) further victimizing the community. There has to be a better way.


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