Oregon Leads the Way on Reducing Recidivism

Grand Forks Herald

By The Pew Center

One state considered a national standout in reducing recidivism is Oregon. For offenders released in 2004, Oregon recorded the lowest overall recidivism rate among the 41 reporting states, a rate of 22.8 percent.

Oregon also experienced the biggest decline in recidivism from 1999 to 2004, a drop of almost 32 percent.

Oregon officials attribute their success to a comprehensive approach to reform and a commitment to change that reaches across all levels of government — from the supervision officer in the field, to the judiciary, through the state corrections department and up the ranks of legislative leadership.

In prison, Oregon inmates receive risk and needs assessments at intake, and targeted case management during incarceration, along with detailed transition planning that begins six months before release.

In the community, probation officers use a sanctioning grid to impose swift, certain consequences for violations, creating consistency across offenders and from county to county. In both settings, offender programs are anchored in research and continually monitored and updated to optimize their effectiveness.

The change in the handling of offenders who violate terms of their supervision was striking. In the past, parole and probation violators filled more than a quarter of Oregon’s prison beds. Today, violators are rarely reincarcerated.

Instead, they face an array of graduated sanctions in the community, including a short jail stay as needed to hold violators accountable. Results of the Pew/ASCA survey confirmed this: Only 5.9 percent of offenders released in 1999 and 3.3 percent of the 2004 cohort were returned to prison on technical violations.

“It’s pretty rare in Oregon for someone to be violated all the way back to prison,” said Oregon Director of Corrections Max Williams, “so we don’t have that revolving door that puts so much pressure on the prison population in other states.”

A key piece of legislation, passed with bipartisan support in 2003, helped fuel Oregon’s efforts. The bill, SB 267, required that any correctional program receiving state money be evidence-based in its design and delivery.

“I think the bill pushed Oregon forward at a faster pace, and forced us to make sure our programs were truly translating the best available research into practice in the field,” Williams said.