About 30 percent of inmates who leave Oregon prisons are back within three years. It's been like that for a decade.
Each repeat crime costs taxpayers up to $200,000 for law enforcement, court costs and incarceration. Reducing the recidivism rate -- repeat crimes by released offenders -- could save taxpayers millions of dollars, cut crime and give ex-offenders a better shot at a new life.
The cost-benefit analysis emerged this week during the first meeting of the Re-entry Council, appointed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski to address the problem.
He said he wants Oregon to take a lead role and that few states are tackling the problem through multi-agency efforts.
Kulongoski cited safety, justice and hope as reasons for forming the group.
The panel includes law enforcement officials, attorneys and agency directors, some working to prepare inmates for life after prison.
Over a year the council will propose legislation to change policy.
"Increasing the number of successful transitions from prison to the community will not be easy," Kulongoski said. "But this much is certain: Both public and private agencies will have a role to play. And right now, we do not have a collaborative and well-coordinated approach."
Of the 13,500 inmates in Oregon prisons, 93 percent will be released.
Corrections Director Max Williams said prison officials can accurately predict which inmates are most likely to return, based on an automated criminal-risk scale.
"We know who they are. They're pretty easy to identify," he said, adding that it makes sense to focus on those high-risk offenders.
Stable housing, jobs and drug and alcohol treatment are essential for success, he said.
But he said many struggle with problems from obtaining valid identification or finding a job or home.
Reasons include less money for rehabilitation in prison, harder public attitudes toward criminals and ex-offenders, and bureaucratic barriers.
Spinoff benefits should appeal to people with different aims -- from fiscal conservatives to people who think ex-offenders deserve a second chance, Williams said.
He said cutting recidivism by 1 percent would mean savings of $2.2 million in corrections costs alone.
More than 4,000 inmates will be released from Oregon prisons in the next year.