Corrections dept. disputes study on recidivism in Minnesota prisonsby Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The state's Department of Corrections disputed a report this week showing Minnesota has the highest ex-prisoner recidivism rate in the nation.
The report from the Pew Center on the States found Minnesota sent 61.2 percent of offenders released in 2004 back to prison within the next three years. The rate is the highest of the 41 states that provided data to the Pew Center. It's also about 18 percent higher than the national average.
The Minnesota numbers attracted local and national media attention, although the Pew study cautioned against using the numbers to rank or compare states. In response, the state's Department of Corrections has accused the Pew Center of using inaccurate numbers. They've also argued the state's sentencing structure and low incarceration rate skews the numbers. Department of Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy issued a statement Wednesday saying he will ask the Pew Center for a correction.
Grant Duwe, the director of research for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, said the numbers are inaccurate because they combine two types of data: offenders sent back to prison for new crimes and those sent back for technical violations of the terms of their release.
For example, it's possible for an offender to be released from prison and go back for another crime. That same offender might, during the second release, violate the terms of parole, all within three years. Duwe said the Pew study counts those offenders twice.
The corrections department also claimed it did not receive an advance copy of the report and didn't have a chance to review the numbers.
"We saw them at the same time that you all did," Duwe said, adding that if Corrections had seen the report in advance, they would have raised objections.
The Pew Center on the States stands by its numbers. Adam Gelb, the director of the center's public safety performance project, said the state had plenty of opportunity to discuss the data. A document provided by the Pew Center shows that the state's Department of Corrections had reviewed and certified that the figures were accurate before the report was released.
"It's understandable that when you come out looking not so good in a survey that you would start to question the numbers," Gelb said. "I think we understand why these questions are being raised, but there is absolutely nothing inaccurate about the numbers that were reported."
Gelb said the Pew Center invited all states to participate in a conference call to review the report before it was released. Minnesota did not participate in the call, he said, and no one from the department contacted Pew about their concerns.
Gelb said he first heard of the Corrections' objections in articles published after the study was released. "So we reached out to them to try to understand why they were maligning our numbers without speaking to us first," he said.
Duwe, of the Department of Corrections, said the department is in an "ongoing discussion" with the Pew Center about the data dispute. "That's not something I can really talk about at this point," he said.
Minnesota officials and the Pew Center agreed on one point: measuring recidivism is difficult. The study explains that every state has differences in sentencing and incarceration that make it difficult to compare states.
"In order to get to prison in Minnesota, you either have to commit a very serious offense or you have to have a very lengthy criminal history," Duwe said. "So the apples in Minnesota are not necessarily comparable to apples in other states."
Duwe said the most recent data shows that 48.7 percent of offenders in Minnesota return to prison within three years.