Leaders in Law

Rethinking Violent Offenders and Recidivism: Attorney Mitch Cozad’s Perspective

In public discourse surrounding violent crime, there exists a significant misconception: once a violent offender, always a violent offender. This narrative fuels fear and influences policy that may not align with the actual data on criminal behavior and recidivism. Contrary to widespread belief, research suggests that violent criminals are not habitually violent and are less likely to re-offend than their non-violent counterparts.

Recidivism, the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend, is a crucial metric for evaluating criminal justice policies. Research indicates that violent offenders who avoid new crimes within five years of release are no more likely to re-offend than those never convicted. This challenges the persistent view of their perpetual danger. Supporting this, the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that although about 60% of violent offenders are rearrested within five years, the re-offense rate significantly declines thereafter, suggesting many eventually desist from crime permanently.

According to Mitchell “Mitch” Cozad, a criminal defense attorney who regularly represents people accused of committing violent and non-violent offenses, “based on the statistics, and my experiences echo this truth: many individuals show a reduced likelihood of re-offending well before five years, reinforcing the power of early intervention and support.”

Desistance from crime involves an individual’s journey away from criminal activities—essentially, they stop engaging in criminal behavior. This is particularly noteworthy among violent offenders, where age plays a crucial role. Criminological research shows that criminal activity peaks during late adolescence and early adulthood, and then declines as individuals age. Most violent offenders “age out” of the highest risk periods for criminal behavior while still incarcerated. This decrease in criminal behavior correlates with neurological findings that the prefrontal cortex, responsible for critical thinking and impulse control, continues maturing into the mid-20s. Recognizing that individuals under 25 may not yet have full executive functioning can inform more effective, age-appropriate rehabilitation strategies, potentially reducing recidivism among this demographic.

Furthermore, rehabilitation is another crucial element in reducing recidivism rates among violent offenders. Effective rehabilitation programs that include anger management, substance abuse treatment, vocational training, and restorative justice initiatives tackle the underlying causes of violent behavior. These programs are designed not just to punish but to change people, equipping them with the skills and support needed for successful reintegration into society. Evidence supports that participation in comprehensive rehabilitation programs significantly reduces re-offending rates among offenders, highlighting their importance in transforming lives and enhancing public safety.

Mitch Cozad further emphasizes the transformative potential of rehabilitation with his own observations, “every day, I engage with individuals deemed “lost causes,’ yet their lives and the data defy this narrative. Witnessing clients once labeled as violent become contributing members of society challenges the myth that they are bound to re-offend. This is not just hopeful thinking—it is a reality.”

Beyond formal rehabilitation programs, the social support networks that individuals engage with during and after incarceration play a vital role in their successful reintegration. Family ties, community involvement, and mentoring programs provide crucial emotional and practical support. These networks help former offenders navigate the challenges of reentry and sustain the progress made through rehabilitation, highlighting their importance in the desistance process.

The data indicates that non-violent offenders, particularly those convicted of drug-related offenses, tend to have higher recidivism rates compared to violent offenders. This is often due to unresolved addiction issues that drive repeated criminal behavior. This observation suggests that interventions, such as treatment centers or treatment courts, aimed at addressing substance abuse among violent and non-violent offenders could be particularly impactful in reducing overall recidivism rates.

Research on recidivism not only informs sentencing reform but is also essential for enhancing public safety. The data indicates that individuals who remain offense-free for extended periods are significantly less likely to re-offend at any age. Based on these insights, it is imperative to adopt nuanced sentencing and parole policies that use risk assessment tools accounting for the elapsed time since the last offense. Policymakers should be urged to consider reforms that reduce supervision or permit earlier parole termination, thereby improving resource allocation and aiding in the effective reintegration of offenders.

However, shifting public perception remains equally critical. Despite the belief that violent offenders are always dangerous, evidence shows lower re-offense rates among long-term desisters. This supports a move towards more rehabilitative approaches. To achieve this, we need to reeducate the public and policymakers, highlighting restorative justice and community support. Strategies could include boosting funding for community-based rehabilitation programs, integrating former offenders into community service roles, and expanding mentoring initiatives with positive role models.

This approach promotes a justice system focused on rehabilitation, resulting in more effective, fair, and humane policies. It enhances public safety and fosters fairness, ensuring that offenders effectively reintegrate into society.