Offender re-entry study


Courtesy photo

Criminal behavior may be linked to mental health in youth. 

Jared Raney

In District Two of Iowa, the rate of offenders relapsing into criminal behavior is 36.69 percent. That’s over a quarter of parolees in that area, which includes Ames.

This number was discovered by professors of sociology Andy Hochstetler and David Peters in a research project done in conjunction with the Iowa Department of Corrections.

“This was a request from the National Institute of Justice for research that touched on a practical topic, integrating practitioners and academics,” Hochstetler said. “We responded to that call with an idea to examine recidivism in the state of Iowa.”

Hochstetler and Peters received a two-year grant from the National Institute of Justice to do a researcher-practitioner partnership, and decided to work on offender re-entry.

“This is an unprecedented opportunity for us to see our own data, not just statewide but by specific geographical locations,” said Lettie Prell, director of research for the Iowa Department of Corrections.

The researchers found that though treatment as a whole works very well and is necessary for successful reentry, there are some regional discrepancies that need to be addressed.

“[We used] a very high-level modeling of what predicts success and failure, and what factors are important,” Prell said. “It opens up that dialogue and communication between researchers and the people who do that work. Together I think there will be some good feedback.”

For example, one of the study’s findings was that there appears to be a large gap between rural and urban parolees.

In District Two, Hochstetler and Peters found that rural parolees actually have a higher rate of returning to criminal behavior when they received treatment as opposed to having no treatment, by almost 10 percent.

Peters said that this statistic is not representative of the state as a whole, and they do not yet know what causes this difference. 

In the next year, the professors will be performing case studies on a regional basis to find what treatments work better in different areas.

“The real benefit is going to be in this second year that we just started,” Prell said. “[In] year two, ISU professors will be going around to every district in Iowa and discussing regional data.”

The offender re-entry programs in Iowa are different in each district. As a result, the goal of the two is to come up with a list of what they call “best practices.” This is basically a list of tools districts can use for parolees with different problems and risk factors.

“Having sort of a one-size-fits-all community corrections system probably isn’t going to work because there are differences across districts,” Peters said. “They’ll have these different approaches in different areas depending on the characteristics of their parolees and their community.”