The primary goal of this study is to understand the factors that best explain recidivism among a sample of 322 young men aged 17 to 24 years released from prison in a Midwestern state. Specific attention is paid to the predictive validity of gang membership, gun use, and drug dependence on the timing of reconviction and the current research on desistance frames the analyses. Results from a series of proportional hazard models indicate that race, gang membership, drug dependence, and institutional behavior are critical factors in predicting the timing of reconviction. Contrary to expectations, gun use was not related to postrelease involvement in the criminal justice system.
Much of current violence policy has focused on the identification and enhanced prosecution of individuals deemed to be serious and chronic offenders; particular emphasis has been placed on gun offenders. The findings presented here indicate that preprison weapon involvement is not significantly associated with recidivism, likely because gun use is prevalent among young, serious offenders. Although policies aimed at the incapacitation of young, violent offenders may reduce community levels of crime in the short term, the chances for recidivism are likely to increase in the long term if factors like gang membership and drug use, and the deficits that these behaviors engender for social and emotional capital, are not addressed. More broadly, the strong, significant effect of the institutional misconduct measure signals the salience of accounting for institutional behavior when making release decisions. Institutional misconduct may be an important marker of sustained gang membership, making institutional programming and appropriate aftercare services a priority for this group of offenders.