RAND Study Finds Immigration Status Has No Effect on Recidivism Rate

Illegal immigrants released from county jail in Los Angeles are no more likely to be rearrested than legal immigrants released during the same period, according to a new study by the RAND Corporation.Researchers say the findings of the study, which tracked 1,300 male immigrants released from Los Angeles County jails over a 30-day period, suggest that illegal immigrants released from county lockup do not pose a greater threat to public safety than legal immigrants released at the same time.

“Our findings run counter to the notion that illegal immigrants are more likely than other immigrants to cycle in and out of the local criminal-justice system,” said Laura Hickman, assistant professor with the Criminal Justice Policy Research Institute at Portland State University and a researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

The study, published in the February edition of the journal Criminology and Public Policy, tracked foreign-born men — 517 of whom were illegally present in the country and 780 legally present — who were released back into the community between August and September 2002 from L.A. County jails.

Hickman and co-author Marika Suttorp initially found that a higher percentage of illegal immigrants was re-arrested at least once during the following year — 43 percent compared to 35 percent for legal immigrants. But when they considered factors such as age, ethnicity, nationality and type of arrest, there was no difference in the recidivism rates between illegal and legal immigrants.

Criminal justice research shows that some groups are more likely than others to be re-arrested — young people and those arrested on drug charges have higher recidivism rates than other groups, the study notes.

The authors of the study say the results are significant as they show the difference in simple percentages of re-arrest between legal and illegal immigrants (35 v. 43) is due to factors such as age, ethnicity and criminal history, known influences on recidivism.

Hickman says the findings should not be interpreted and applied to criminal justice systems outside Los Angeles, and she hopes more researchers will tackle the subject of immigrants in the criminal justice system.

“I think researchers have shied away from this topic because it is hard and so politically charged,” Hickman said. “There are all these claims out there about deportable aliens, but no one seems to be doing any research to see if these claims can be supported or not. There is a lot of untested rhetoric out there. … Our hope is that this study spurs other researchers to do sophisticated analysis on the issue.”