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A New Approach to Combat High Recidivism Rates Amongst Black Men

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Key Takeaways

  • The U.S. has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world, with Black men being the highest demographic.
  • Recidivism has consistently been an issue, and specifically in that demographic.
  • Holistic intervention methods are needed to address core issues.

The United States has a long-standing history of high numbers of incarceration, particularly since the 1980s, when the prison population exploded. The number of people who have been sentenced to prison has increased even during periods of declining crime rates. In addition to these consistently high numbers, there is a very clear racial disparity, as Black individuals represent around one third of the adult incarcerated population, despite making up less than a sixth of the United States' total adult population.

Additionally, rates of recidivism—the recurrence of imprisonment due to an additional charge or offense—are also higher among the Black population. A study out of Florida Atlantic University and published in the Journal of Prison Education and Re-entry sought to better understand this unfortunate reality and investigate some approaches that could help reverse the situation.

Racial Disparities

Recidivism

Data show that Black men are arrested and charged at higher rates and given longer sentences than their White counterparts. And while they are more likely to engage in rehabilitation programs, they deal with recidivism in higher numbers.

As it stands today, a significant percentage of incarcerated individuals are likely to be rearrested within three years, a massive failure in a system that is ostensibly intended to rehabilitate incarcerated people.

The Effects on Community

Incarceration deeply affects the Black community. In addition to traumatizing individuals and separating families, it has supported a stigma against those who have been to jail, ultimately lessening an individual's ability to find and secure gainful employment.

Regardless of race, crime-laden communities are often connected to low-income communities; it has become commonplace for companies and organizations to ask questions about a criminal background, supporting the discriminatory practices that contributed to the poverty and crime cycle in the first place. Despite the hardship recidivism causes for those who are detained and the money it costs the state they are held within, the rates remain high.

Researchers attribute the regularity of negative interaction with police coupled with the systemic racism that Black men and individuals navigate as a major factor in these slanted recidivism rates.

Precious Skinner-Osei, PhD, lead author of the FAU study, says, "Many factors contribute to the high recidivism rates of African American men, but how their environment perceives them plays a significant role. Therefore, they respond differently to the environment compared to their non-African American counterparts."

Skinner-Osei says that re-entry programs must consider the oppressive factors that many Black individuals face, including past traumas, particularly those associated with the prison system. "Institutions involved in the criminal justice system must be part of the solution to alter the hostile environment experienced by these men," she says.

Renee Skedel, LPC

By using a holistic perspective, we allow ourselves to see the person as a whole system rather than simply breaking them down into parts; in turn, we give them the space as well as potentially the hope to challenge their perspectives on themselves, their lives, and others.

— Renee Skedel, LPC

A More Holistic Approach

The FAU study was a re-analysis of a 2018 study on Black fathers’ struggle with re-entry, recidivism, and reunification. This new study took into account changes with documented race-based policing, criminal justice reform efforts, and recent mental health initiatives.

This study included Black, male-identified participants, ranging from 23-56, from a rehabilitation program in southeastern Florida who had been in prison at least once and participated in at least three re-entry programs.

The study suggests that true success of a rehabilitative program for justice-involved individuals depends on a holistic and culturally competent approach. Renee Skedel, LPC and Ohio justice center mental health professional, supports this approach and says, "When one considers the whole person—rather than focusing exclusively on one part (sexual orientation or race, for example)—it is much more effective. By using a holistic perspective, we allow ourselves to see the person as a whole system rather than simply breaking them down into parts; in turn, we give them the space as well as potentially the hope to challenge their perspectives on themselves, their lives, and others."

Skedel stresses the need to consider all of a person's strengths, weaknesses, skills, and experiences. "These interventions are more effective because the person may feel seen or truly heard and be able to be more genuine with themselves; this can open them up to experiences outside of their norm to challenge their perspectives, their reality, and their ability to access their strengths and needs," she says.

Improving the Path to Societal Re-Entry

The first part of the study included a 13-question demographic questionnaire, and the second section consisted of open-ended questions that were asked in an interview format. The researchers used the themes in participants' responses to develop a model for re-entry programming that could reduce recidivism rates.

In the original study, authors found five main themes: trauma, self-identification, re-entry, reunification, and recidivism. These included sub-themes such as stress, institutionalization, resources, post-release environment, generational abuse and abandonment, and housing.

In the re-analysis of the data, researchers found four new themes: psychological profile, cognitive behavior, emotions, and environment. The new analysis also covered sub-themes such as post-traumatic stress, peer pressure, and emotional insecurity.

The results of the study encourage a CARE approach to re-entry programming:

  • Collaboration: The methods the researchers found beneficial have a heavy emphasis on cognitive, behavioral, and social learning techniques while including an individual's personal relationships to aid in reinforcing positive messaging.
  • Amend: Researchers strongly believe that overall policies need to be altered for individuals to flourish post-incarceration. Politics will also contribute to the social stigma, and these things in tandem will shift access to resources alongside stable housing and employment.
  • Reintegration: The study cited programs like the Volunteers of America (VOA), which allows justice-involved people to connect with potential future employers, gain and showcase their job skills, and potentially reduce concerns about their past infractions posed by stigma.
  • Empowerment: All of the above result in a lessened community and personal impact connected to an infraction, ultimately increasing the involvement of a justice-involved individual in community and their quality of life.

What This Means For You

The ongoing issue of high levels of incarceration and recidivism for Black men is complex and layered, and while there is not a singular solution due to its origins in systemic racism, this research supports a holistic approach to justice reform and re-entry services and programs.

In order to truly engage in culture shift and address stigma, policies need to be changed, resources have to be offered, in addition to the impacted individuals being treated as their whole entire selves.

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Article Sources
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  1. The Sentencing Project. Criminal justice facts. 2020.

  2. Pew Research Center. Black imprisonment rate in the U.S. has fallen by a third since 2006. Published May 6, 2020.

  3. Skinner-Osei, Osei PC. An ecological approach to improving reentry programs for justice-involved African American men. J Prison Educ Reentry. 2020;6(3):333-44. doi:10.25771/vh5p-9a34

  4. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment of young men after arrest or incarceration. Published May 20, 2019.

  5. Berry KR, Kennedy SC, Lloyd M, Veeh CA, Tripodi SJ. The intersectional effects of race and gender on time to reincarceration. Justice Q. 2020;37(1):132-160. doi:10.1080/07418825.2018.1524508

  6. Skinner-Osei P, Stepteau-Watson D. A qualitative analysis of African American fathers’ struggle with reentry, recidivism, and reunification after participation in re-entry programs. J Hum Behav Soc Environ. 2018;28(2):240–255. doi:10.1080/10911359.2017.1402724