Thom Feucht is the executive senior science advisor at the National Institute of Justice.
In 2007, NIJ asked a team of researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University to look at people with prior arrests and find out if their odds of further criminal activity go down if they stay arrest free for some period of time.
Here’s how the research worked: Professor Al Blumstein and his team examined the criminal records of everyone who was arrested for their first time in 1980 in the state of New York. Then they tracked those criminal records forward noting who was arrested again and who wasn't. In general, once an individual had stayed clean for a few years, his chances of being arrested for any new crime just about disappeared. This point was what Blumstein refers to as the point of "redemption," when a prior arrest is no longer predictive of any future criminal arrests.
For individuals who commit their first crime at a very young age or who are first arrested for a more serious crime, it takes longer – about 8 years to reach the point of redemption; but for arrestees who are older when first arrested or who commit less serious crimes, redemption can come in as little as 3 or 4 years. For them, staying clean for 3 or 4 years meant that they were no more likely than anyone else to have an arrest in the future.
Al Blumstein’s research team is conducting additional research in other states in order to help us more clearly understand the idea of redemption and jobs for ex-offenders.
Among its many goals, a Cabinet-level Reentry Council convened by the Justice Department is working to find ways of improving the employment outlook for past offenders --- to reduce recidivism, to make communities safer through a reduction in crime, to assist those returning from prison and jail in becoming productive, tax-paying citizens, and to save taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration.
?NIJ’s research is an ongoing effort where we test our assumptions about the world in order to be better informed by scientific evidence, and to help us make better decisions about our policies and practices regarding crime and justice.
?Fred Fiske put his finger on a pervasive challenge in our society: when can we trust an ex-offender? Our research sheds light on this critical question, and suggests that, for at least some individuals, the point of redemption comes sooner than we might expect.