Isabel Shepherd ’20

While criminal justice and prison reform remain major topics on the national stage, it is important to understand the state of the problem on a local and state level.

To get an idea of the scope of the problem in Delaware, here are some quick facts about the makeup of a 2014 cohort of released prisoners who were tracked for recidivism, according to data provided by the Delaware Statistical Analysis Center:

  • Cohort was 89% males, 11% females
    •  Of these males, 58% were black, 42% were white
    • Of these females, 22% were black, 78% were white
    • In both categories, races other than black or white accounted for less than 1% of subjects
  • Within this cohort, the three year recidivism rate was 72.8% (i.e. 72.8% of the subjects in this cohort who were released from prison were re-arrested in the next 3 years)
    • This rate is the lowest in the seven years measured by the Delaware Statistical Analysis Center

Recidivism is an important factor in understanding the health of the justice system. If prisons are effectively rehabilitating prisoners, then recidivism rates should be relatively low. Though a declining recidivism rate in Delaware indicates positive change, 72.8% is still extremely high. For perspective, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates the nationwide three year re-arrest rate to be around 68%. However, this rate does jump to 83% within 9 years. In comparison, Italy’s three year re-arrest rate is only 32% as of 2009. While these numbers vary greatly based on offense, time since release, and state, along with many other factors, these rates offer valuable insights into the effectiveness of a state or nation’s criminal justice system.

In Delaware, there have been a few attempts to address the state of the criminal justice system. Executive Order #27, signed by Governor John Carney in December 2018, formed the Delaware Correctional Reentry Commission, which “focuse[s] on reentry reform, policies, and procedures, with a goal of helping former inmates more successfully reenter their communities.” The executive order marks Delaware’s participation in the National Criminal Justice Reform Project, “an initiative led by the National Governors Association and the National Criminal Justice Association Center for Justice Planning to assist states in implementing evidence-based criminal justice reforms.” While this marks an important step in Delaware’s criminal justice efforts, the Commission’s work with the project focuses mostly on reentry procedures, not reducing the current prison population. In addition, Delaware received a $1.5 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs to aid in reentry reform efforts.  However, Delaware’s “percentage of incarcerated adults is approximately twelve percent higher than the national average,” so reforms targeted specifically at reentry will only address a symptom, not the larger problem.

Despite the few valuable criminal justice reforms introduced in Delaware, there remains a long way to go in terms of true systematic changes. To echo Jason Flom and Noura Jackson’s sentiment in this month’s forum, make sure to stay aware of local politics and elections, as they are a vital tool for citizen-directed reform. 



“Delaware Awarded Two Federal Grants to Reduce Recidivism at the State Level.”, State of Delaware, 22 Jan. 2019, Accessed 2 Dec. 2019.

Delaware State, General Assembly, Delaware Statistical Analysis Center. Recidivism in Delaware. Dec. 2018. Delaware Statistical Analysis Center,  Accessed 2 Dec. 2019. 2018 General Assembly.

“Delaware to Participate in National Criminal Justice Reform Project.”, State of Delaware, 27 Mar. 2017, Accessed 2 Dec. 2019.

“Governor Carney Signs Executive Order to Improve Reentry Procedures, Reduce Recidivism.” Delaware News., 4 Dec. 2018, Accessed 2 Dec. 2019.

U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2018 Update on Prisoner Recidivism: A 9-Year Follow-up Period (2005-2014) . By Mariel Alper, Ph.D. et al., edited by Jill Thomas and Brigitte Coulton, Office of Justice Programs, May 2018. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Accessed 2 Dec. 2019.

Yukhnenko, Denis. A systematic review of criminal recidivism rates worldwide: 3-year update. Compiled by Shivpriya Sridhar, edited by Seena Fazel, 13 Nov. 2019. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Accessed 2 Dec. 2019.


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