The majority of prison inmates are released sooner or later. Many of them commit new crimes that put them back in prison. The pressing challenge has been to cut down the recidivism rate, thereby reducing the high financial and social costs of people cycling in and out of prison.

A review released this month by the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments offers encouraging data showing that initiatives Ohio has taken in recent years are gradually driving down the recidivism rate. Of the prisoners released in 2005, 38 percent returned to prison within three years. Those released in 2007 posted a 34 percent recidivism rate, and the 2008 cohort had a rate of 31.2 percent, the lowest rate in Ohio in two decades. Overall, the recidivism rate at the three-year mark fell by 21 percent from 2003 to 2008.

The decline reflects concerted actions at the federal, state and community levels, which improve the chances that the downward trend in re-incarceration will be sustained over the long term. The federal Second Chance Act, for instance, is invaluable, routing critical funding to public agencies and private organizations to build up a range of support services, such as transitional housing, employment assistance and treatment programs for alcohol and substance abuse. County-based re-entry networks are easing reintegration by linking inmates to community resources before and after their release. State prison and legislative reforms are lowering some of the barriers, such as the host of collateral sanctions, that contribute significantly to recidivism.

Encouraging as the results are, a 31 percent recidivism rate still means roughly one-third of released prisoners will go back within three years. Gary Mohr, director of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, notes that the statewide changes have allowed the agency to redirect about $20 million to local communities to help reduce recidivism. Local communities, which face the intensive work of re-integrating inmates, need also the assurance that the resources will be sufficient to drive the decline in recidivism.