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Probation Follow-Up Finds Many Felons Back in Jail : Crime: Study shows a high rate of recidivism. And court terms of release are often violated.


WASHINGTON — Of convicted felons released on probation, 43% are rearrested for another crime within three years, the Justice Department reported Sunday.

Officials said also that only a small percentage of the tens of thousands of probationers nationwide fully comply with court-ordered terms.

The department's Bureau of Justice Statistics based the findings on a study described as the largest follow-up investigation of felony probationers ever conducted. Of the 4.3 million Americans serving a sentence at any given time, 60% are probationers, and half of those are convicted felons.

"Overall, the data suggest that a relatively small fraction of felony probationers comply with all of the orders of court," said Steven D. Dillingham, chief of the statistics bureau.

The study followed the cases of 79,000 persons in 32 counties of 17 states who were sentenced to probation after felony convictions in 1986.

Of the 43% who were arrested again within the three-year period, half were jailed for a violent crime or a drug law violation, records showed.

The analysis of state court records and probation files also showed:

-- That during their probation periods, 62% of those convicted of a felony were rearrested or subjected to a disciplinary hearing for violating terms of probation.

-- That 46% were sent to jail or prison or had illegally left the jurisdiction in which they were serving.

-- That 21% of the felons had been granted probation instead of jail or prison sentences in spite of contrary recommendations from probation officials. Those not formally recommended for probation were almost twice as likely to have their sentences revoked and be sent to prison as those for whom favorable recommendations were made by a probation department.

"About half of those arrested while on probation were arrested more than once," Dillingham said.

In fact, the statistics showed that 34,000 of the felons studied accounted for 64,000 of the subsequent arrests. While 54% of them had one new arrest, 24% were charged in two subsequent cases and 22% were arrested three times or more.

During the year in which the felons studied were sentenced, state courts returned 583,000 convictions and 306,000 persons were ordered to serve probation, with 72% of them also required to serve a time in confinement or make periodic visits to a probation officer. Those who had been convicted of drug offenses were the most likely to be rearrested. More than half (52.2%) of those convicted of possession of an illegal substance were brought up on new charges.

Those sentenced for property offenses--burglary, larceny or fraud--were more likely (43.4%) than those convicted of violent crimes (41%) to be charged with another offense.

Murderers and rapists constituted the smallest group among those granted probation, and they were least likely to be repeat offenders while under supervision.

The study showed that 19.5% of the rapists granted probation were arrested on another charge within three years, as were 20.8% of the murderers.

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