supervision on desistance from criminal activity, adherence to conditions of parole, and successful reentry into the community. To carry out its charge, the committee organized and held a workshop focused on traditional and new models of community supervision, the empirical underpinnings of such models, and the infrastructure necessary to support successful reentry. The committee also reviewed the literature on desistance from crime, community supervision, and the evaluation research on selected types of intervention.
Parolees are a heterogeneous group, and their rates of desistance from crime vary widely: that is, there is no average parolee. Parolees who have short criminal records or have committed violent offenses have lower rates of recidivism than parolees who have long criminal records or have committed drug or property crimes. Releasees who have just served their first prison sentence have sharply lower rates of recidivism than those who have been imprisoned more than once, regardless of the sex, age, or race of the person or the type of crime. Among all parolees, many have significant education and cognitive deficits, as well as substance abuse and mental health problems.
Contrary to the commonly quoted conclusion that “nothing works,” the evidence shows that some approaches work for some offenders and that other approaches show promise. Post release interventions that have shown measurable effects include treatment for substance abuse, especially when combined with frequent testing for drug abuse, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Comprehensive, multiservice employment and training programs and mentoring programs hold promise but require rigorous evaluation.
The committee offers a number of significant findings. First, cognitive-behavioral treatment programs reduce recidivism significantly. Second, the peak rates of committing a new crime or violating the terms of parole occur in the first days, weeks, and months after release. Third, deaths among releasees are very high in the first weeks after release, more than 12 times the average for the general population. Clearly, the first days and weeks out of prison are the riskiest for both releasees and the general public.
In addition, extensive longitudinal research on desistance highlights specific conditions that lead to less offending: good and stable marriages and strong ties to work appear to be particularly important. These findings seem somewhat at odds with findings from program evaluation that individual-level change, including shifts in cognitive thinking, education, and drug treatment, are likely to be more effective than programs that increase opportunities for work, reunite families, and provide housing. We caution, however, that many findings on the effects of desistance programs