Prisoners Released from Guantanamo Bay: How does their recidivism rates compare with US criminals?

Recidivism rates would suggest that Guantanamo has proven an effective experiment in criminal rehabilitation. But an examination of the statistics when compared to recidivism rates for US criminals, who receive greater transparency and supervision of re-entry into civilian life, points strongly to the innocence of released Guantanamo suspects.

By Kenneth Freeman, for

A recent newspaper reports that the Pentagon believes that one in seven (fourteen per cent) of detainees have engaged in questionable activities or terrorism since their release. Actual details are sketchy, but if true, it would indicate that Guantanamo Bay has proven to be one of the most effective experiments in criminal rehabilitation conducted by the US Government.

According to the US Department of Justice website, the average three year re-arrest rate for all released prisoners is in excess of sixty per cent, this includes prisoners incarcerated for violent crime and drug related activities. It should be noted that such prisoners have on average experienced better treatment and greater transparency and due process, and more assistance and supervision during their re-entry into civilian life than has been provided prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay facility.

Percentage of released prisoners re-arrested within 3 years, by offense, 1983 and 1994

          All            Violent   Property  Drug   Public-order

1983   62.5            59.6       68.1         50.4     54.6

1994   67.5            61.7       73.8         66.7     62.2

Sources: BJS, Recidivism of Prisoners released in 1994(June 2002)

In the normal criminal justice system, re-arrest is not proof of guilt. Accordingly, it might be instructive for purposes of analysis to compare the percentage of criminals both re-arrested and convicted within three years of their release with the percentage of alleged Guantanamo Bay recidivists. Overall, three year reconviction rates were almost forty-seven per cent for all criminals. For violent criminals they were approximately forty-one per cent. Re-conviction rates for drug related released criminals have also been in excess of forty per cent. On average in excess of fifty per cent of all released criminals were back in jail either because they were convicted of another crime or due to a parole violation.

Percentage of released prisoners reconvicted within 3 years, by offense, 1983 and 1994

         All                Violent       Property    Drug    Public-
         Released                                                      Order

1983    46.8              41.9           53.0            35.3     41.5

1994    46.9              39.9           53.4            47.0     42

Source: BJS Reentry Trends in the US Recidivism

It seems likely that many of the prisoners released would be entitled to feel a certain amount of anger and resentment at the treatment they received, and the difficulties they were forced to overcome in order to be released. This might lead a reasonable person to expect that they would be more and not less prone to engage in questionable activities. Nor is it likely that actual motivated terrorists would be less prone to engage in questionable activities when released than ordinary prisoners (approximately fifty per cent). Accordingly, it seems reasonable to conclude that the low alleged recidivism rate for prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay is not due to a breakthrough in rehabilitation techniques that has been developed and implemented there. Rather it seems likely that a reasonable person would conclude that the remarkably low recidivists rate for prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay indicates that at a minimum, approximately seventy-five per cent of the prisoners released, were innocent of any terrorist related activities. Should prisoners found suitable for release from Guantanamo Bay be entitled to compensation?

Dr. Freeman has been an Associate Fellow at RUSI, taught Force Planning and Analysis at the US Naval War College, a Visiting Scholar at CIS, MIT, and a Senior Analyst at the US Congressional Office of Technology Assessment.

© Kenneth Freeman 2009

The views expressed above are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI.



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