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Recidivism: An Analysis of Public and Private State Prison Releases in Florida

NCJ Number
Williams Bales Ph.D.; Laura E. Bedard Ph.D.; Susan T. Quinn M.S.; David Ensley; Glen Holley; Alan Duffee; Stephanie Sanford
Date Published
December 2003
37 pages
Drawing on data from Florida, this study examined whether inmates released from private prisons recidivate less than inmates released from government-operated prisons.
Over the past two decades, debates over the use of private versus government-operated prisons have come to the forefront of public policy discussions. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that by the end of 2002, 5.8 percent of State inmates were housed in private prisons in 31 States, representing an increase of 9.1 percent over the past 3 years. Proponents for the use of private prisons site evidence of lower recidivism rates, lower operating costs, and improved quality of service. Following a review of prior studies on recidivism rates of private versus public prisons, the data sources of the current study are explicated and include data extracted from the Florida Department of Corrections’ (FDOC) Offender Based Information System (OBIS). Two recidivism measurements were utilized, re-offense and re-imprisonment, and 17 control variables were employed, all of which met 2 study criteria: (1) factors for which the FDOC had reliable data, and (2) factors identified as significant recidivism predictors by previous studies. Three key limitations of the dataset are discussed, followed by an explanation of the selection of the experimental and control groups; Table 1 offers definitions. The three private prison release cohorts of adult males, adult females, and youthful male offenders are identified and compared to similar release cohorts of public prisons. Results of multivariate statistical analyses indicated no significant differences in recidivism rates were discovered for adult males and youthful male offenders released from private versus public prisons, which is consistent with previous research on Florida offenders. The results of the female adult offenders indicated that 1 of the 12 measures of public versus private prison exposure resulted in a significant reduction in recidivism among this group of offenders. Overall, only 1 in 36 comparisons resulted in a significant finding of lower recidivism rates among inmates released from private versus public prisons. Future analyses should focus on more cases that fit the one comparison that demonstrated a reduction in recidivism for private prisons. Tables, references