The released from prison in Finland 1993-2001 and the re-entered
The research examines how great a share of the sentenced prisoners start to serve a new unconditional sentence within five years of their release.
By the recidivism of released prisoners is meant in this research only discovered and registered criminality that has led to an unconditional prison sentence. Unconditional prison sentences constitute a small, but remarkable part of all recidivism. The research looks into how many released prisoners return back to prison. The returned are examined in relation to their age, times in prison, sex and year of release. The number of those receiving a new prison sentence is influenced by legislation, the number of discovered crimes and their share of detection. Recidivism in case of serious crimes is more rare than in case of slight crimes or petty offences.
The total number of those returned to prison and their proportional share of the released depend on the following criteria:
- Has the crime been committed already before prison sentence or after release,
- what is the length of the follow-up time,
- are the dead during the follow-up time taken into account,
- are the deported or emigrated eliminated from the follow-up and
- are the persons in prisons or other institutions (irresponsible) taken into account?
Recidivism is influenced, besides legislation and court praxis, by the length of the follow-up times. The longer the released prisoners are followed, the bigger share of them commit a new crime. As the follow-up time increases, the number of the dead increases at the same time. The life expectancy of persons having served prison sentences is considerably shorter than the one of the rest of the population. This must be taken into consideration when calculating the risk of re-offending. A part of the released are left outside the follow-up because of emigration. A part have not the nationality of the country of release, and they can be deported to their native country after release. A part of the released may be in institutional care when the likelihood of recidivism may be smaller.
The number of recidivists and the ratio describing recidivism increase if the follow-up time is lengthened. The number of recidivists and the ratio describing recidivism decrease if those who have committed a new crime after release are considered as recidivists. The number of recidivists and the ratio describing recidivism increase if those who are serving a new sentence imposed for a crime committed before release are considered as recidivists.
The number of recidivists does not increase even if the dead during the follow-up time are eliminated from the data. The percent ratios concerning recidivism increase also because the dead during the follow-up time can belong to the group of non-recidivists only. The number of recidivists does not increase if the deported abroad are taken into account. However, the proportional share of the recidivists increases if the deported are eliminated from the follow-up data.
The number of those whose sentence has been waived (irresponsible) is small but if they are taken into account, it either somewhat increases or decreases the number of recidivists or the ratio depending whether they are considered to be recidivists. Sentences imposed for crimes committed during imprisonment may be combined to the prison term being served.
1. How many of those serving a prison sentence return to prison,
2. how soon after release does a new prison sentence start,
3. how many of the released serving their first prison sentence return to prison,
4. does re-offending vary according to age, sex or corresponding factors and
5. are there differences between various types of crimes in re-offending,
6. how do times in prison cumulate to different persons
7. is recidivism more common in Finland than in other Nordic countries?
The total data collected from the central prisoner register in 1993-2002 include 30.000 separate persons and their 100.000 prison terms. Foreigners and the dead during the follow-up time have been taken into account when calculating the share of the recidivists.
By the recidivism of released prisoners is meant in this research only discovered and registered crime that has led to an unconditional prison sentence. The research data are the total data of the central prisoner register of the Criminal Sanctions Agency on the sentenced prisoners since 1993. The data include at the largest 100.000 prison terms and 30.000 separate persons.
By a recidivist of a prison sentence is meant in this research a person who in 1993-2001 has served at least two prison terms. Thus a recidivist has been released after 31.12.1992 from unconditional imprisonment and started to serve a new prison sentence before the year 2002. The follow-up time is from the release to the starting of a new prison sentence. The date of committing a crime could not have been used as a criterion because it cannot be collected from the central prisoner register.
The definition restricts the data as follows:
1. A part of the recidivists evade the enforcement, and therefore they have not been counted as recidivists despite a legally force punishment. They could not have been taken into account as such data cannot be collected from the information on statements of judgement available in the Criminal Sanctions Agency.
2. A person who has been sentenced to a new prison sentence is considered as a recidivist even if the crime has been committed before release. From the Criminal Sanctions Agency's own registers it is not possible to collect automatically the date of the crime. The Legal Registers Centre is responsible for keeping of legal registers.
3. The definition excludes the prisoners who during the next prison term after their release are still remand prisoners. Their court proceedings are unfinished, and they were not included in the data.
The restrictions divide the data into two big groups: the first-timers and the recidivists. According to the international praxis, persons who have been sentenced at least to two unconditional prison sentences are usually considered as recidivists.
The accumulation of returning to prison can be examined on the personal level by taking into account the person's all previous prison sentences. A retrospective way of study is not very interesting as thus only rutted recidivists can be analysed. A more useful starting point to examine recidivism of prison sentence is monitoring the likelihood of a new prison sentence in different groups for a certain period.
This forward-looking way of examination of recidivism is based on the method of German Köbner which he presented in Paris over a hundred years ago, in 1893 in a conference held by an international criminologist society. According to the method, recidivism percentage is calculated as a ratio on such persons able to re-offend who have a possibility to commit crimes. The dead, the migrated abroad and the ones in penal institutions during the follow-up time are eliminated from the total number.
The Köbler model is used in this research, but the follow-up is continued longer than five years, i.e. for the time that the follow-up time enables in case of each cohort. The follow-up time is some nine years in the cohort of the released in 1993, and less in the case of those released later, but at least a year. The dead during the follow-up time are eliminated from the data, as well as the citizens of foreign countries without Finnish identity number. In the research the recidivists of a new prison sentence are examined as ratios: how many of the released in a certain year have re-offended within a certain time. he recidivism has been calculated at the accuracy of a calendar day from the day of release to the value day of the next sentence.
1. Follow-up time: Over a half of all the released returned to prison
2. Year of release: The share of recidivists is increasing in Finland
3. Times in prison: The majority of those for the first time in prison did not return to prison
4. Age: 80-90 percent of the young offenders returned to prison at least once
5. Sex: Men re-offend more often than women
6. Type of crime: Persons sentenced for homicides and sexual offences re-offend more rarely than others
7. Fictitious recidivism: One in four of those returned to prison did not commit a new crime after release
8. Process: Under 10 out of 100 of the first-timers ended up in prison vortex
9. Vortex: The persons in prison vortex are the most socially excluded part of the Finnish adult population.
Over a half of all the released returned to prison during five years after release. The majority of those for the first time in prison did not return to prison. 80-90 percent of the young offenders returned to prison at least once. Men re-offend more often than women. Persons sentenced for homicides and sexual offences re-offend more rarely than others. One in four of those returned to prison did not commit a new crime after release. The share of recidivists is increasing in Finland. Under 10 out of 100 of the first-timers ended up in prison vortex and they are the most socially excluded part of the Finnish adult population.
Of the first-timers released in 1993-1997, 40 percent started to serve a new unconditional prison sentence during five years after release. The share of offenders receiving a new prison sentence barely increased after five follow-up years even if the follow-up time was continued to last nearly ten years at most. A quarter of the released returned to prison without a new crime after release. They returned to prison to serve a sentence which was not legally valid before release. 35 percent of the first-timers and those released in 1996 were genuine recidivists.
Men re-offend more often than women and the young more often than the old. First-time prisoners re-offend less frequently than those having served a prison sentence at least twice. 85-95 percent of the ones released at under 18 years of age re-entered prison. The size of this age group is small, annually 27 released on the average. In the eldest age group, re-offenders constitute 20-30 percent. Also the size of this group is relatively small, annually some 280 released on the average. The highest risk of recidivism is among the ones sentenced for robbery and property offences and the lowest among those sentences for homicides and sexual offences. The share of recidivists increased along with times in prison. Four out of five ending up in prison vortex returned to prison within five years of their release.
However, only a few out of a hundred released first-timers end up in prison vortex. The general idea of a great probability of ending up in prison vortex is false, and it is based on the fact that most prisoners are recidivists. When 40 of a hundred first-timers return to prison, the flow of thousands of first-timers that has continued for decades has caused that despite a small probability some offenders have ended up in prison vortex. Since 1991, 30.000 separate persons have been sentenced to unconditional imprisonment, and all in all during the past 30 years some 100.000 separate persons.
The prisoners caught in the prison vortex are a challenge both to the Criminal Sanctions Agency and to the society at large: they are the sickest, poorest and socially most excluded part of our adult population. Even though, one third of them will after their each prison term remain permanently at liberty. The likelihood of staying at liberty is the greatest among those who are able to keep away from intoxicants. The considerably higher mortality rate than that of the rest of the population only partly explains the breaking off of the prison vortex. According to the central prisoner register, since 1991 in Finland prison sentence was served by 13 340 such persons who at the time of the comparison run of the population register 1.3.2002 were alive and who had been at liberty at the end of the follow-up at least for five years and therefore not likely to return to prison any more.
The follow-up time of those released after 1999 is yet too short, so the observed increase in the share of recidivists is only so far a prognosis based on the time series of the data.
Several various recidivism figures may be attained on the numbers of those returned to prison in relation to the released. The highest figures are obtained if the shares are examined only concerning the ones in prison. This retrospective way of examination easily leads to erroneous figures of recidivism because it is best suited to describe the accumulation of prison sentences on the same persons.
The forward-looking genuine follow-up gives smaller shares of recidivists. The proportional shares and numbers of recidivists are reduced if only so called genuine recidivists are considered as recidivists. By these are meant persons who have returned to prison after committing a new crime after release. It is important to separate the person in prison for the first time from those in prison for several times because the risk of the first-timers to return to prison is considerably smaller than that of the rutted recidivists.
As the share of the returned increases rapidly along with the follow-up, it is important to notify exactly the follow-up time and also whether the dead during the follow-up have been eliminated. It is especially important to eliminate the dead during the follow-up lasting over three years because the mortality rate of the released prisoners is manifold compared to the rest of the population of the same age. In international research, often only the follow-up of two or three years and genuine recidivists are used. In this comparison, Finland's 30-40 percent share of first-timers who have committed only one crime leading to a new unconditional prison sentence is not especially high.
The probability of re-entering prison many times is extremely small: under ten in a hundred of the first-timers return to prison over six times. In prisons there are, however, manifold recidivists, about a half of the sentenced prisoners. During decades, the continuous flow of first-timers brings about that despite a small probability some end up in prison vortex: that is why the prison vortex is a strongly selective process. This recruitment causes that the prisoners caught up in the prison vortex are the most socially excluded, poorest and sickest part of the population.
This research has examined only the association of static factors (age, sex and times in prison) with the level of recidivism. Later on it is important to clarify the association of dynamic factors (education, health, ability to work, intoxicant problems etc.) with the return to prison. The Criminal Sanctions Agency has started to collect data on dynamic factors, and the first preliminary data indicate that intoxicant rehabilitation provided in prison considerably lowers the statistical risk of ending up in prison again.
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