How Different Sampling Methods Paint Vastly Different Pictures of Recidivism, and Why It Matters for Policy

Nidhi Kalra, Brian G. Vegetabile, Shawn D. Bushway, Greg Baumann, RAND Corporation

(January 2022)
How Different Sampling Methods Paint Vastly Different Pictures of Recidivism, and Why It Matters for Policy Cover

In this paper from RAND, the authors argue that the recidivism statistics cited most often in debates about the collateral consequences of criminal conviction are not appropriate to answer the questions inherent in those debates. In particular, the behaviors of criminal justice cohorts are too often mistakenly used to describe, or are entangled with descriptions of, behaviors of the overall population of people who have ever had a conviction, served time in prison, or experienced some other event in the criminal justice system. This confusion has consequences.

This paper demonstrates that the most-cited recidivism statistics often are based on criminal justice cohort samples that disproportionately contain frequent participants in the criminal justice system and, as a result, have higher recidivism rates compared with the broader population of concern.