NEW REPORT: Criminal Justice System Punishes Former Lawbreakers Long Past Risk to Commit a New Crime

When Is Criminal Punishment Enough?

It is an intuitive yet little-known fact that most criminals eventually stop committing crime. Research has shown that when lawbreakers have served their full sentences and remain crime-free for a certain period of time, their chances of re-offending eventually drop to a level equivalent to—or, in some cases, less than—that of the general public.

A newly released report commissioned by Justice Fellowship, the criminal justice reform and advocacy affiliate of Prison Fellowship Ministries, highlights this surprising "risk convergence" and underscores how the practice of punishing men and women past this point fails to serve the public good, instead just making it more difficult for former prisoners to successfully reintegrate into their communities and build a crime-free, post-crime life.

"Justice Fellowship advocates for a restorative justice approach to criminal justice that requires the system to do more than 'warehouse' people convicted of crimes," said Justice Fellowship Executive Director Craig DeRoche. "While restorative justice holds lawbreakers accountable for the harm they have caused, it also advocates for closure by creating an opportunity for a fresh start."

"Closure shouldn't take a lifetime, but our nation's current criminal justice system creates long-lasting barriers to successful reintegration into our communities," said DeRoche.

The report (Executive Summary here), developed by the Research & Evaluation Center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, provides a textbook overview of how lack of closure creates barriers that formerly incarcerated men and women must overcome in order to become productive and functioning members of their families and communities. These barriers include:

  • Challenges to finding meaningful employment

  • Financial instability

  • Inability to find adequate housing

  • Loss of basic civil rights

"State and local governments should consider removing the stain of permanent civil punishments when the risk of further criminal involvement is statistically unfounded," DeRoche added. "Strong policy incentives for successful reintegration benefit us all because they reduce public spending, improve public safety, and motivate men and women returning to our communities to demonstrate that they have truly reformed."

Prison Fellowship Ministries was founded in 1976 by the late Chuck Colson and today is the world's largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families. Through Justice Fellowship, it promotes a restorative justice approach to criminal justice that respects victims, rehabilitates offenders and repairs communities.