The US has more inmates than any other country. Out of 2 million inmates, the US releases 600,000 prisoners annually. However, 71% of them end up back in prison.

That's where prison rehabilitation comes in. It aims to transform prisoners and reduce recidivism (the likelihood of reoffending). Of the participating prisoners, 43% do not return to prison after three years.

Still, the US relies on a "get tough" (more arrests, heavier punishments) policy. 85% of Americans, however, prefer rehabilitation over punishment. This raises the question of whether prison rehabilitation works.

Let's dig into the stats and find out!

Editor's Top Picks

  • 71% of released prisoners in the US face rearrest within five years.
  • The US spends $182 billion on mass imprisonment, 55% of which goes to police and public employees.
  • South Carolina has a recidivism rate of 19%, the lowest in the US.
  • Having a criminal record reduces callback rates by 50% for job applicants.
  • In the US, 27% of former inmates have jobs—3x the national unemployment rate.

Prison Rehabilitation Statistics

Imprisonment in the US costs $17,285 annually; it's only worth it if it keeps inmates from returning. Sadly, many do. This is called recidivism, and a single event costs over $150,000.

Prison rehab programs that educate and teach inmates skills reduce recidivism. For example, the Prison University Project has a 17% recidivism rate, lower than the national average.

Investing in rehabilitation programs also saves taxpayers money. RAND found that every $1 spent on prison education saves $5 on re-incarceration costs.

Let's use statistics to explore more about recidivism, the costs of prison rehabilitation programs, and their success in the US. Read on!

Recidivism Statistics

Recidivism rates show how many inmates reoffend and reenter the prison system. This data helps improve prison rehabilitation and address high US recidivism rates. See the numbers below:

1. 71% of prisoners across 34 states were rearrested within five years. 

(Bureau of Justice Statistics)

In 2012, 62% of former inmates returned to prison within three years. It increased to two-thirds at the five-year mark. While this is 4% lower than the recidivism rate of 75% in 2008, it's still alarming.

The US also has the highest number of recidivists. 44% of ex-convicts return to prison after only one year of release. Other countries don't even hit this number after the first five years.

2. Homicide convicts had the lowest five-year recidivism rate at 41.3%.

(Council on Criminal Justice)

This finding implies that since homicides serve longer terms, many are beyond 40 when released. Although half of offenders commit this crime, it is not the most recidivist.

Those in jail for property crimes have the highest recidivism rate at 78.3%. Their punishments are shorter, and they have not "grown out" of their offense.

3. South Carolina has a 19% recidivism rate.

(WIS News, Wise Voter)

South Carolina has the lowest recidivism rate of any state in the US. The Department of Corrections offers academic and vocational rehabilitation programs.

There is also aftercare when one exits prison. The partnership with other agencies, including the Department of Employment and Workforce, sets South Carolina apart.

4. Virginia's recidivism rate remains among the lowest for 7th consecutive year.

(World Population Review)

Virginia has a 23.4% recidivism rate, second only to South Carolina. The Department of Corrections Virginia credits the hard work of the correctional staff and inmates. They provide vocational, academic, and cognitive skills training.

Their research unit, VACORIS, compiles state recidivism studies and reports. Only 2,997 of 12,551 released inmates returned in 2016, justifying Virginia's rehabilitation efforts.

Prison Rehabilitation Cost Statistics

The US spends a lot of money on its prisons, with most of the budget going to the employees. This prioritization results in less spending on inmate utilities, healthcare, and judicial defense. Here are some cost statistics:

5. The US spends $38.4 billion on public employees and $63.2 billion on policing.

(Prison Policy Initiative)

55% of the $182 billion US budget for mass incarceration goes to staffing. It allocates 21% to police and 34% to public employees. This amount does not even include a retiree's pension.

It leaves only 45% of the budget for: 

  • Healthcare
  • Utilities
  • Prosecution
  • Indigent defense
  • Costs to families
  • Telephone calls
  • Other expenses

This shows that the US prison system prioritizes cost over inmates' needs. The 2 million prisoners also contribute to the high cost. 

6. The Washington State Institute for Public Policy lists four cost-effective rehabilitation programs.

(Department of Justice Archives) 

Rehabilitation programs are not free. However, the returns show that this is more than just a cost. It is a long-term investment.

  • For Residential Drug Treatment with aftercare, the program cost per inmate is $3,100, while the Savings Benefit is $5,230
  • For Prison vocational training, the program cost per inmate is $1,960, while the Savings Benefit is $12,017
  • For Corrections Industries, the program cost per inmate is $777, while the Savings Benefit is $4,394
  • For Adult Basic Education, the program cost per inmate is $1,960, while the Savings Benefit is $9,176

The findings suggest that rehabilitating prisoners would benefit the state more than it would cost. These people have lost their social functions, but they can recover. 

7. The US spends $31,000 per prisoner, while Norway spends $93,000 per prisoner. 

(First Step Alliance)

Norway's successful prison rehabilitation program requires a lot of funding. The country helps convicts reintegrate into society and promotes humane treatment.

Norway also invests heavily in its prisons, with amenities like flat-screen TVs and yoga classes. Their police-to-inmate ratio is 3-to-1. Norway believes that separation from society is punishment in itself. 

Prison Rehabilitation Success Rate Statistics

The prison has three purposes: to stop crime, punish, and rehabilitate the wrongdoer. When ex-prisoners don't go back to jail, it deters crime and promotes peace.

Getting a job shows that an ex-inmate has returned to society. A good rehab program will have low recidivism rates. Here are some statistics on how well rehabilitation works in US prisons:

8. The get-tough approach only reduces US crime by 10%–25%.

(University of Minnesota Libraries)

The get-tough approach since 1970 has led to a 5-fold increase in the imprisonment rate in the US. However, it also accounts for the huge prison budget. 

Scholars, however, have questioned the effectiveness of this strategy. Punishing criminals without addressing the root cause creates more problems in the community.

9. In the US, only 27% of those formerly incarcerated are employed. 

(Prison Policy Initiative)

Former inmates face a high unemployment rate of 27%, compared to the general public's rate of 5.2%. Discrimination against criminal records reduces job callbacks by 50%.

Companies prioritize their business interests and view hiring ex-convicts as risky and costly. Due to unemployment, many ex-convicts struggle to reintegrate back into society.

Final Thoughts

Imprisonment not only takes away one's freedom but also their dignity. The US spends a good amount on prisons. However, very little of this goes to prison rehab. 

Prison rehabilitation provides hope, humanity, and a chance for a better future. The rate of recidivism measures the success of these programs.

Statistics show rehabilitation lowers long-term incarceration costs and gives inmates a second chance. More than half of the US population would agree on its effectiveness.