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What is Recidivism?
Recidivism, in a criminal justice context, can be defined as the reversion of an individual to
criminal behavior after he or she has been convicted of a prior offense, sentenced, and
(presumably) corrected. It results from the concatenation of failures: failure of the individual
to live up to society’s expectations – or failure of society to provide for the individual; a
consequent failure of the individual to stay out of trouble; failure of the individual, as an
offender, to escape arrest and conviction; failure of the individual as an inmate of a
correctional institution to take advantage of correctional programs – or failure of the institution
to provide programs that rehabilitate; and additional failures by the individual in continuing
in a criminal career after release.
Recidivism as a theoretical construct is a fairly simple idea: Some people will reoffend after
they have been convicted, treated, and/or punished for a crime. Numerous quantitative studies
have documented the extent of reoffending throughout the country, while various theoretical
perspectives have demonstrated that it is a vital component to understanding criminal justice.
However, determining why people reoffend and measuring how often they do so proves to be
much more difficult. Further, the politicizing of the causes and implications of recidivism has
led to even more confusion on how to reduce or eliminate this problem. Until these issues are
rectified or somehow resolved, high rates of recidivism will continue. (Cole Mihael Ami,
Reformative measures of treatment completely fail in case of such offenders. Imprisonment is
the only alternative to prevent recidivists from repeating crime. Various state
and jurisdictions may have laws targeting recidivists, and specifically providing for enhanced
or exemplary punishments or other sanctions.
Variations in the definition of recidivism make it difficult to compare programs and states.
Definitions may differ in how they measure recidivism based on the duration of time
monitored, the types of offense included, and the inclusion of parole violations. Additionally,
the measurement of recidivism can be further complicated because many programs target
inmates with particular characteristics, which introduces a bias into data on recidivism. For
example, the prisoners who choose to enroll in an education program may be more likely not
to be rearrested, regardless of their participation in the program. Although the program may
show a reduction in recidivism compared to other prisoners, the reduction in fact may reflect
the specific characteristics of prisoners in the program rather than the effect of the program.
Without consistent and unbiased data, it is not possible to determine conclusively which states
are reducing recidivism most, which programs are more effective, or in some cases if a
program is effective at all.
Specific definitions of recidivism differ in three major ways:
Duration of time monitored
Types of offenses included
Inclusion of parole violations
First, the duration of time monitored differs significantly from state to state and program to
program. For example, in 2001 released prisoners that committed new offenses two years after
release would not be counted for recidivism in Massachusetts but would be counted in
Oklahoma. States consider anywhere from one to 22 years in counting recidivism, with most
using between one and three years. Three years is the most commonly used period of time and
is generally considered to be sufficient for documenting the most serious re‐offenders. The
duration also varies in terms of when agencies begin and end measurement. The measurement
of duration may begin with release from incarceration, release from parole supervision, or
release from a program. Generally, measurement begins at the time of release from prison, but
in some cases, such as for the evaluation of a parole program, duration might be measured
starting with release from parole.14 The endpoint for measuring duration also varies: some
jurisdictions stop when a new offense is committed; other jurisdictions stop at the date of
conviction, dates that can be more than a year apart. These differing
determining starting and ending dates affect recidivism rates, and their variability
complicates comparisons among recidivism rates.
Definitions of recidivism also differ based on the types of offenses counted, including the way
in which parole violations are counted. For example, recidivism for the Florida Department of
Corrections involves only the return to prison or a new sentence to Community Supervision
for a new offense. If the person commits a lesser offense for which he or she is incarcerated
in a county jail, the event is not counted as recidivism. Also not counted are technical
violations of Community Supervision, which return the individual to prison. Technical
violations include such things as failure to report to the parole officer at specified times. In the
Colorado prison system, the definition of recidivism includes technical violations.
Recidivists are involved in law breaking activities.
They have the intention to commit the crime.
They commit the crime even after knowing that this is punishable. Punishment seems
to be very natural to them.
They can take any risk to face the adverse situation of committing crime.
The punishment or any other system of reformative institutions cannot reform their
character so that they relapse into crime again and again.
Most of the times their history of crime is long.
They are generally clever, self-centered, competitive as well as greedy and vicious.
It is seen comparatively more in character of the male offender than the female
Measuring recidivism varies from country to country and from correctional organization
to another. However there are two universal ways that are used, these are:
 Length of period under observation.
 The nature of the crime.
Firstly, the length of time observed varies significantly from country to country. For
instance, in the year 2001 unconfined inmates who were involved in new offenses
twenty four months after discharge were not included in the number of recidivism in
Massachusetts yet were included in Oklahoma .Three years (thirty six months) is the
most frequently used time and is usually well-thought-out to be appropriate for recording
much of serious delinquents. The length also differs in relation of when interventions
begin and end. It may begin with the expiration date of imprisonment, day released from
parole observation, or the day the inmate is released from a rehab program. Secondly,
the definitions of recidivism can also vary based with the sorts of crimes reckoned by an
individual. In the Florida Department of Correction, recidivism only involves returning
to prison on a new offense. When the individual commits a lesser crime for which he/she
is incarcerated, the incident is not considered to be recidivism.
Recidivism rates according to Chappell (2004) are considered to be ranging from thirtynine to seventy out of a hundred depending on the system for measurement. The figure
referred to by numerous studies reported that pretty nearly two‐thirds of discharged
detainees will re‐offend in a period of less than three years of release. Chicago SunTimes (2004) proclaimed that the rate of recidivism in Illinois is estimated to be fifty
percent. California and Utah have the most astounding rates of recidivism with levels of
75 to 80 percent (Sun Francisco Chronicle, 2004). Rates of recidivism fluctuate as per
kind of offense. McKean and Ransford (2004) asserted that property criminal acts are
connected with a higher rate than compared to other different crimes, yet a wide range
of criminal acts have altogether have a high rate of recidivism.
Corrections System Defined.
In most countries the corrections system is mainly referred to as the prison system. The
main duty of correctional system is the supervision of those individuals who were
arrested and sentenced for one or more criminal accounts. In 2010, almost seven and
half million Americans were under correctional system (BJS, 2011). Americans
accumulate 5 percent of the world total population yet they carry 25 percent of the total
world inmate population giving her the leading number of inmates in the world (Liptak
Campbell (n.d) asserted that the word “rehabilitation” means the process of facilitating
and assisting an individual to adapt back with the social order or to reestablish somebody
to his or her previous position. Nonetheless, this notion has gained acceptance as a
source of sentencing someone and for justification for sentence. The ways that were used
to attain reformation in prisons has been wide-ranging over time, starting with silence,
separation from public, hardworking labor, and punishment, then later moving to
clinically based involvements that included drugs coupled with psychosurgery.
 Economic Factors Contributing to Recidivism.
Economic factors have a great contribution towards recidivism. CS&CPC Statement on
the Root Causes of Crime (1996) asserted that in Canada, real McCoy signified an
inconsistent amount of those individuals in prison. This real situation is that the
significance of individuals that being kept are at a social and economic hindrance. These
include deficiency in financial resources, poverty which is expressed through shortage
of educational opportunities, lack of employment, poor housing among others that will
be described below. Low income and poor housing frequently intensify deprived
parental supervision, inconsistent care, poor diet and nutrition, poor health, poor
academic performance and concentration and psychological disorders. Poor living
environments are mostly leading to stress during pregnancy. Fetal development will be
affected by stress that has shown to be closely related to slow development, poor health,
neurological difficulties, and behavioral conflicts in children. Despite the fact that there
is no uninterrupted root and effect relationship stuck between poverty and delinquency,
the perceived conditions that arise from poverty can combine to produce high risk
individuals who are over-exemplified in the illegal justice system.
 Socio-economic status.
Loeber et al., (2001) holds the view that financial status is conflictingly reported as to
be a cause of recidivism. Socio-economic is observed to be inconsequential to individual
misconduct. In support of this view Cottle et al. (2001) finished up by postulating that
the economic status is the weakest variable distinguished by means of meta-examination
in foreseeing recidivism. Be that as it may, inmates with low social economic status have
been connected to higher rates of genuine criminal activities.
 Persistent Unemployment
CS&CPC Statement on the Root Causes of Crime (1996) has noted that researchers have
found out that there is a many people who are incarcerated where unemployed at their
time of arrest. Unemployment habitually generates a logic of despair, mostly amongst
teenagers and can incite fuming expression-manifestation that may include theft,
substance abuse, and family violence. By the same token, unemployed men released
from prison after incarceration are at a risk of re-offending. Individual’s involvement in
criminal behavior can be a result of failure in school and an unsound job condition.
 Educational factors.
It has been noted that poor academic execution and disappointment in school have been
observed to be connected with human misconduct. On the other hand, it is clear that
scholarly working has a conflicting in the association with recidivism. Socially, it is
assumed that school and scholastics assume a part in human misconduct. Low
connection to class is a marker for danger (Loeber et al., 2008). Female guilty parties
reliably perform poor scholastically, have low self-regard, and little seek after the future
(Mullis, Cornille, Mullis, & Huber, 2004).
Risk factors in recidivism.
Danger is premeditated by recognizing the criminal’s attributions and results to focus an
arrangement of characteristics that are associated with negative results (i.e., recidivism)
(Ashford & LeCroy, 1998). Hazard appraisals are utilized to recognize high hazard
adolescents in view of measurable connections between distinguished danger elements
and recidivism. Hazard evaluations are utilized to help with choice making processes
with duty, order, levels of intercession, and positions. Herrenkohl, Hawkins, Chung,
Hill, and Battin–Pearson (2001) and Rutter (1987, 2003) stated that collecting different
dangers as a youngster improves the probability of misconduct in youth.
 Social Variables Associated With Recidivism.
A handful of scholars hold the view that neighborhoods that are overcrowded were
connected with higher unlawful acts rates. These urban situations have more criminal
activities in both the adolescent and grown-up domains than areas of low populace.
 Peer influence.
Peer engagement and collaboration creates in immaturity. Associate impacts can be
useful or unfriendly, and can add to the degree of criminal conduct. Peers with genius
attributes may offer positive backing and part displaying (Smith, Flay, Bell, &
Weissberg, 2001). In addition, Ferguson & Meehan (2010) postulated that individuals
who are associated with reprobate companions are at expanded danger of getting to be
included in genuine wrongdoing and savagery. Another view was pointed out by Mulder
et al, (2001), they hold the view that communication with criminally included
companions is a typical normal for recidivists.
 Stigmatization.
Stigmatization of inmates and ex-inmates by the society. It is common knowledge that
when one has been labeled a criminal or ex-inmate, the society has a tendency of
stereotyping this group of people. This can be seen by the general misconception of the
general populace that if ones has been convicted for a crime, that person cannot be a
suitable candidate for a certain position. Even when an ex-convict is to go into selfemployment the general public tends to shy away from that person, thus living the excon with no real chance of earning a living because of these high levels of stigmatization
from the society. The government on the other hand does not make it any easier for
these ex-inmates as our legislatures has crafted laws that bar previously convicted
persons from formal employment. Such laws infringe the right of a Zimbabwean citizen
of this country since section 56(2) of the constitution clearly provides that:
“Women and men have the right to equal treatment, including the right to equal
opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres”
Ex-convicts are not employed by both the government and private companies. Due to
lack of employment inmates may be forced to indulge in criminal activities as a means
of sustaining themselves.
There are various ways in which initiatives targeting recidivism can be grouped. MacKenzie
has identified six categories into which crime reduction strategies in the US can be sorted:
1. Incapacitation– the offender is deprived of the capacity to commit crime.
2. Deterrence– one of the major purposes of sentencing is deterrence, both general and
specific. By punishing a person for a crime, other members of the community may be deterred
from committing an offence, as the likely repercussions are made clear (general deterrence).
Specific deterrence aims to prevent a particular offender from committing a crime again.
3. Community restraints– offenders are supervised in the community to reduce their capacity
and opportunity to commit crime.
4. Structure, discipline and challenge programs– the experience is designed to change
offenders in a positive way so they will not commit crime in future.
5. Rehabilitation– treatment is directed toward changing the behavior of the offender.
6. Combining rehabilitation and restraint– offenders are coerced into rehabilitation and
Correction or rehabilitation of the offender is but one of the goals that society specifies for
prisoner custodial and treatment programs. Sechrest et al. ( 1979:18) list seven goals of
criminal sanctions:
To deter the offender from offending again by punishment or fear of punishment
(without necessarily changing him or her in any other way);
To deter others from behaving as the offender has;
To incapacitate the offender and thus deprive him or her of the opportunity to offend
again for a given period of time;
To forestall personal vengeance by those hurt by the offender;
To exact retribution from the offender and so set right the scales of moral justice;
To educate people morally or socially;
To rehabilitate or reform the offender.
These goals are value-laden goals: they focus on producing beneficial effects for society or on
improving the future conduct of offenders.
Society also imposes limits on criminal sanctions and on the agencies that administer them,
limits that can also be construed as correctional goals. Some of these goals relate to the
essential fairness of the criminal sanction: they include proportionality and sentence equity.
Still other correctional goals are more in the nature of administrative or managerial objectives.
They include safety and humaneness in institutional care, and the protection of the incarcerated
and of the institution staff and the public from incarcerated offenders.
From the above study the following conclusions were drawn:
Economic factors have emerged to be the major factor that can contribute to recidivism
amongst Chikurubi Prison Farm inmates. Due to lack of employment opportunities among
inmates, they find it hard to sustain themselves daily so they end up going back to criminal
activities and as a result they are returned back into the prison. With no educational
qualifications which may have been caused by lack of financial resources or by dropping
from school the inmates tend to turn to crime because they won’t get a job without the
necessary qualification. Most inmates claim that they rob and steal out of economic
necessity. Inmates that spend few years in school tend to relapse into criminal behaviour
more often than those that complete high school and or tertiary education. Since those in
school are occupied with a lot of things from school they might not have time to plan and
indulge in crime than those who are not in school. Inmates will end up using drugs to
windup time and eventually turning to crime and recidivism is inevitable at such conditions.
Inmates that return to school after release from prison have a lower number of recidivism
than those that have no job and do not attend school after release. Thus, this research has
concluded that education and employment are the major determinants of recidivism.
Some crimes are psychological imbedded within the individual, some inmate’s uses elusive
drugs that promote social misconduct and criminal behaviors. Some crimes can be
biologically explained. Biologically, crime is said to be either inherited from the biological
parents to their offspring as some inmates point to their family history some crime are
committed as self-fulfilling prophecy. A handful of inmates proposed that they cannot be
separated with crime since it is something that is biologically imbedded in them.
Chappell, D. (2004). A stone of hope. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Cole, M. (2004). Perceptions of the use of victim impact statements in Canada. Ottawa: National
Library of Canada = Bibliothèque nationale du Canada.
Mullis, A., & Mullis, R. (2001). Engaging reluctant families in helping relationships. Tallahassee,
Fla.: Florida State University Family Institute.
Langan, P. A., & Levin, D. J. (2002). Recidivism of prisonersreleased in 1994 (Special Report,
NCJ–193427).Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Liptak, J., & Leutenberg, E. (2008). The anger & aggression workbook. Duluth, Minn.: Whole
Person Associates.
Loeber, R. (2008). Violence and serious theft. New York: Routledge.
McKean, L., & Ransford, C. (2004). Current strategies for reducing recidivism. Chicago, IL:
Center for Impact Research.
MacKenzie D, ‘Reducing the criminal activities of known offenders and delinquents: crime
prevention in the courts and corrections’ in Sherman L et al (eds) Evidence-Based Crime
Prevention, Routledge, London, 2002, p 330.
Moore, J. (2000). Ashford. [Place of publication not identified]: 1stBooks.
Petersilia, J. (2003). When Prisoners Come Home. New York: Oxford University Press.
Petersilia, J. (2006). Prisoner Reentry Public Safety and Reintegration Challenges. In K. C. Haas
& G. P. Alpert (Eds.), The Dilemma of Corrections (5th ed., pp. 461473). Long Grove, AL:
Waveland Press, Inc.
Perceived Root Causes of Crime in Site B, Khayelitsha. (2014). Mediterranean Journal Of Social
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Criminal Offenders: Problems and Prospects. National Academy of Sciences Press, Washington,
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