Northampton County Recidivism Rate Dropped From 69% to 36.5%

Huge news, although it is just re-offenses within Northampton County:

Director of Corrections Arnie Matos did not exactly say that Northampton County needs no jail. But he did point out that, contrary to the trend elsewhere in Pa., the County’s jail population is decreasing. It’s dropped from 920 to 736, despite all the predictions from experts in three-piece suits. Matos also pointed out that recidivism (criminal behavior by an offender who has already been jailed once) has dropped from 69% to 36.5%.

Since 66 cents of every County tax dollar pays for the back end of crime, this has a dramatic impact on your tax bill.

Bernie O’Hare says Matos credits the Community Education Centers for the big drop.

I think the next County Executive should also apply to try out the new state pilot program for HOPE-style probation reform. How it works is that people who get probation are randomly drug-tested each week, and if the test comes back positive they get swift, certain mild sanctions for every instance of detected drug use – like a weekend in jail, rather than a long sentence. The idea is to get the criminal justice system to act like a halfway-decent parent, rather than ignoring most probation violations and then randomly lashing out with long sentences. This approach has produced huge drops in recidivism in Hawaii and early signs show that other areas are replicating the success.

As Bernie points out, this is the most important fiscal issue in the County, just because of how large a share of the budget goes to the criminal justice system. If John Callahan can get the recidivism rate down to 15-20% through probation reform, that’ll have large positive implications for the County budget, and it’ll also yield big economic gains for the cities, as perceptions of increased safety boost business investment and land values, and reduce the high cost of crime avoidance behavior. Politically, it would turn heads statewide for a progressive Democrat to post major results on an issue that Republicans unfortunately continue to own.


  1. Deb Hunter says:

    I also like the fact that Matos was honest and said that recidivism rates are difficult to interpret. I agree that the new technical capabilities that are being discussed between the local counties to track former inmates is one way to help sort it out and really get a good picture of the success of these rehab programs. We need to know what really works among all of the options available to bring these folks back into the community.

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