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The corrections situation in the United States is serious: The number of offenders in prison is at an all-time high, and there are currently 5 million people on probation or parole — more than three times the number only 25 years ago.
With approximately 7 million adults in this country now under some form of correctional control, the National Institute of Justice continues to examine what works in the field of corrections, especially policies and practices that prevent recidivism. That is why we have dedicated half the stories in this issue of the NIJ Journal to corrections.
Alfred Blumstein and Kiminori Nakamura of Carnegie Mellon University discuss preliminary findings from a project that developed an "actuarial" model to determine when an ex-offender's risk of committing another crime declines to the same risk as anyone else in the general population. In other words: How long does an offender have to stay clean before the likelihood that he will commit another crime is the same as other people his age? The ramifications of this ongoing research could be very significant, as we try to balance employers' rights to conduct criminal background checks with the goal of reintegrating ex-offenders into our communities.
We also explore an innovative prison program called Getting Ready, which gives inmates a prison experience that better reflects what their lives will be like when they are released. The third corrections article examines the experiences of two states, California and Ohio, in using tools to calculate sanctions for parole violators.
Finally, I want to share news of a "listening" campaign that was launched in April 2009 by Laurie Robinson, acting assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice Programs. The listening sessions are the first step in widening our channels of communication with key stakeholders, including leaders from law enforcement professional organizations, victim advocate groups and many criminal justice professional associations. They talked ... and we listened.
What have we heard? One recurring theme was a need for our "thought leaders" to share their insights and provide easy-to-understand guidance to a variety of audiences. "We want," said one constituent, "to know what you know." People from groups as diverse as the National Crime Prevention Council, the Parents of Murdered Children and the National Conference of State Legislatures said that they were excited to see a renewed commitment by the Obama administration to the value of science and research. They also asked for more collaboration and coordination among OJP agencies, and we received an earful about improving the solicitation and awards processes.
I hope this issue of the NIJ Journal meets the clarion call from our stakeholders for compelling, easy-to-digest discussions of what we know.
Acting Director, National Institute of Justice
About This Article
This article appeared in NIJ Journal Issue 263, June 2009.