By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A new state commission studying how to help released inmates stay out of prison spent much of a meeting Wednesday working on a definition of recidivism that all state agencies can use.
One of the goals of the Joint Commission on Reentry is to create a definition so the state can implement best practices to aid those leaving prisons and create a safer Alabama.
Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Parole Director Cam Ward said during the meeting that since every state agency defines recidivism differently, it is nearly an impossible task to settle on a singular meaning and mission.
“The data means something different to everyone,” Ward said. “Plus as a state, we have tried for generations to come up with a uniform recidivism rate and not gotten anywhere.”
The ABPP defines recidivism differently for probationers and parolees but is generally measured on if a person commits criminal acts, fails to meet terms of release, or is sent back to prison.
The Alabama Department of Corrections defines it as an inmate who returns to ADOC jurisdiction, which includes county jails, within three years of their release.
According to ADOC’s most recent annual report from 2019, its recidivism rate is 27.95%.
Most of the discussion on Wednesday surrounded whether to include arrests in the definition of a relapse into criminal behavior, or only include offenders actually sent back to jail or prison.
Barry Matson, the executive director of the Alabama District Attorneys Association, would like to see arrests included because that’s how the U.S. Department of Justice measures recidivism and because arrests are still using up agency resources.
“If you’re arrested, then you’re going into pre-trial, you’re going into community corrections, you’re going into drug court,” Matson said on Wednesday. “Arrests don’t just happen and poof, it’s out there. It is another drain on an already overtaxed system.”
Alabama Department of Human Resources Commissioner Nancy Buckner said she is in favor of the more simplified definition, saying that most of the general public want to know if Alabama’s prison population is being reduced.
“As a taxpayer in the state, it means a lot to me for the prisons to reduce their population by 1,000 to 1,500 people, and that’s what a lot of people want to see and to me that is successful if they didn’t go back to prison,” Buckner said.
The commission did not vote on a definition on Wednesday but said they will continue discussions in later meetings.
The commission was created as a part of Senate Bill 221, which passed earlier this year, and is a 13-member group that will report to lawmakers next year on a state plan for best reentry and reintegration strategies.
Carla Crowder, the executive director at Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice, was also in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting. She told Alabama Daily News that in considering a definition for recidivism, she hopes the commission also considers those who are sent back to prison just because of technical parole violations.
“An activity that might not lead to jail for someone like me, but could trigger something else for those on parole,” Crowder said. “There are just so many more pitfalls for them.”
Crowder said she hopes in future meetings the commission will further discuss how newly released inmates are made aware of reentry programs.
“We really hope this commission can take a more realistic look at what happens when people walk out the gates of a prison and how do they even begin to access these services if they don’t have an ID, if they don’t have transportation or if they don’t have housing,” Crowder said.
Another topic discussed Wednesday was promoting data sharing across all agencies involved with reentry work and which identifier they would like to use to tract an individual.