Regarding the April 13 Metro article “Va. defies trend on recidivism”:

The suggestion that a report from the Pew Trust shows that the Virginia prison system has been unusually successful in combating recidivism does not take into account some important considerations.

Recidivism rates include returns to prison for technical violations as well as returns to prison based on conviction for a new crime. The rate that directly affects public safety is the rate of conviction for a new crime. On this measurement, Virginia does worse than most of the states reporting data.

Moreover, as the Pew Trust report notes, the states that have successfully reduced recidivism have adopted policies that focus on targeted treatment of offenders. Michigan, for example, has adopted treatment programs that have reduced recidivism by one-third, to the lowest level in 25 years.

When Virginia adopts similar evidence-based programs, we will see a meaningful reduction in its recidivism rate.

Elizabeth Alexander, Washington

The writer was director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project from 1996 to 2009.


I was pleasantly surprised that Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) is making himself a force in the effort to lower recidivism. I do not generally agree with him, but for this he should be applauded.

In this country, more than 800,000 convicts are released every year, most of them with no marketable skills. What do you expect most of them will do with their freedom if not given the opportunity to do something other than commit crimes? The best way to prevent new crimes is to offer people a chance to do something else.

Everyone deserves a second chance — with conditions. Programs such as the one provided by Mr. McDonnell should be strengthened.

Jerrold Anderson, Upper Marlboro

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