Jeff Jensen, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, believes his district’s probation office has the lowest recidivism rate in the country.

In a Nov. 20 interview with St. Louis Public Radio, Jensen expressed frustration over St. Louis’ crime rate. His one positive note, however, was about the recidivism rate for the Eastern District of Missouri probation office, which includes St. Louis and Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

“It’s nothing I do, but the probation office here in the Eastern District of Missouri is the best in the country,” he said. “They have about a 7.5% recidivism rate, compared to national averages of 70 or 80%.”

We’ve had a similar check in Wisconsin, but we haven’t delved into Missouri’s Eastern District. Does it really outperform the rest of the country? Here’s what we found.

Jensen is making an apples-to-oranges comparison between district and national numbers.

It’s impossible to check whether the Eastern District is the best in the nation because the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics doesn’t study recidivism at state and county levels.

An apples-to-oranges comparison

The numbers are difficult to compare.

Scott Anders, chief U.S. probation officer for the Eastern District, responded to PolitiFact’s request for the source of Jensen’s statistics.

The district’s numbers match Jensen’s claim. In 2019, 7.5% of people under supervision — prisoners on parole, supervised release or probation — were rearrested, Anders said. Additionally, the rearrest rate from 2012 to 2016 averaged 7.76%, according to the Eastern District’s rearrest reports.

It’s not as easy as Jensen made it seem to compare those rates to national averages. In a report that studied recidivism rates of state prisoners from 2005 to 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics broke up the rates into one-year, three-year, six-year and nine-year periods.

Here’s what the study found: 44% of state prisoners were arrested within one year after release, 68% were arrested within three years, 79% within six years and 83% within nine years.

So, while the statistics match Jensen’s ballpark estimate of a 70 or 80% national recidivism rate, he is making an apples-to-oranges comparison when weighing them against the Eastern District’s rate.

Best in the country?

The first part of Jensen’s claim — that the Eastern District is the best in the country — is more difficult to check.

Bureau of Justice Statistics spokesperson Tannyr Watkins wrote in an email that the bureau has not studied recidivism rates for individual states or counties. There’s no other governmental group that tracks the rates by district across the country.

Our ruling

U.S. attorney Jeff Jensen said his district’s probation office is the best in the nation. He noted the office’s recidivism rate — 7.5% — and compared it to the nation’s rate of 70% or 80%.

Jensen had both his numbers for the Eastern district’s rate and the national averages straight, but he was making a comparison across different time periods. The Bureau of Justice Statistics also hasn’t studied recidivism rates at a state or county level, so there’s nothing to say it’s the best in the nation.

Because Jensen had the right idea in promoting his district’s recidivism rate, but the numbers don’t exactly line up, we rate this claim Half True.

  • Fall 2019 public life reporter. I am a senior studying international journalism and Spanish.

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