Skip to main content

Hard Data to Back Up the Rhetoric on Recidivism

New York City has launched a public database to help study the problem of repeat offenders.
(Photo: MaxRiesgo/Shutterstock)

(Photo: MaxRiesgo/Shutterstock)

Everyone from prosecutors to prison-policy wonks, from academics to journos, should be excited about the latest project of New York City's Office of the Criminal Justice Coordinator. On Monday, reports the Wall Street Journal, the City launched a public online database containing the (anonymous) information of every person over 16 who was charged with a crime in 2009, and then what happened to him or her afterwards. The goal of the Data Analytic Recidivism Tool (or DART) is to help track and understand the factors that lead some people to be arrested, convicted, or incarcerated multiple times.

Of the arrests currently represented in the database, "most (76%) were neither detailed nor incarcerated and were free to be re-arrested at least once."

The risk of recidivism, or repeat offending, is often cited as a reason for harsh penalties, or for leniency, depending on which side of a case one is on. "If you are asking for probation for your client, you can produce outcomes for your guy and create averages and compare it to others in that category," Franklin Zimring, a law professor at the University of California-Berkeley, told the Journal. "If you're a prosecutor, you can use the same data, but obviously with a different spin."

The hope is that DART will provide the hard data to back up the rhetoric with facts. It’s easy to use, and thorough. It’s searchable by categories like gender, type of crime committed, age at the time of arrest and whether they had prior convictions, whether or not they were recommended for release at the time of their arraignment, and what sentence they received if they were convicted.

It’s worth noting that this data doesn’t just include hardened criminals with lengthy sentences, or even just people who were convicted at all. Of the arrests currently represented in the database, “most (76%) were neither detailed nor incarcerated and were free to be re-arrested at least once,” according to the DART website. “Of those who were incarcerated in New York City, 80% were free within sixty days.”

But there’s a lot in here to explore and parse. Pervaiz Shallwani highlights some of the findings of the database for the Journal:

The data showed that 33.4% were rearrested citywide for a new crime within a year. About 13.2% were rearrested for a felony and 4.7% were rearrested for a violent felony.

The Bronx had the highest rate of recidivism among the borough, at 38.6%, and the highest number of felony recidivism at 14.8%. But Brooklyn topped the list of repeat offenders committing a violent felony, at 5.5%.

The data can be broken down in a more detailed fashion. For example, there were 1,787 female shoplifters ages 20 to 34 who received desk appearance tickets in 2009. Their recidivism rate was 10.5%.

And the 50,129 people arrested with prior convictions who were deemed high risk, which a city spokesman defined as people not recommended for release as classified by the Criminal Justice Agency, had a recidivism rate of 51.7%.

There’s a lot here to dig into, and there will be even more as the City continues to upload each year’s data, one by one. Uploading the 2009 data was just a start, according to the project’s FAQ page, because they wanted at least two years of data from the time of arrest. The 2010 data is set to go up online by the end of December.