Researchers at Iowa State University are using a federal grant to investigate ways to keep Iowa prison inmates from returning to prison once they’re released. ISU sociology professors David Peters and Andy Hochstetler have found treatment programs designed to reduce Iowa’s recidivism rate are working for many former inmates.
But, Peters notes the treatment programs in place have proven much more effective for offenders from urban areas of the state. “For parolees sent back to urban areas, the treatment they got both in the prison and outside of the prison in the community really was effective at reducing their likelihood of ending up back in prison,” Peters said.
“In fact, it was about a 40 percent reduction in the odds of a (parolee) showing up back in prison.” But, for rural parolees, the treatment programs had “zero effect,” according to Peters. Both researchers suspect rural parolees face more obstacles to accessing substance abuse treatment and other help, so they may be more likely to relapse and violate the terms of their parole.
Hochstetler says drug and alcohol problems clearly increase the risk of recidivism, but time spent in prison doesn’t appear to be much of a factor. “Curiously, we thought the longer you were (in prison), the more difficult time you would have reintegrating. But, we did not find that was an important predictor of either treatment or recidivism,” Hochstetler said.
The second phase of the study will involve visits to all eight community corrections districts across the state and interviews with probation officers. They’re hoping the work will help them identify treatment options that will further reduce the rate of recidivism and provide a cost savings to the state.