Recidivism Law and Legal Definition

Recidivism is a tendency to lapse into a previous pattern of behavior, especially a pattern of criminal habits. Many courts are now utilizing drug and alcohol treatment programs to reduce the recidivism rate of offenders who commit drug or alcohol related crimes. Recidivism is often used to identify the success of a specific institutional program.

Recidivism means the rearrest, reconviction, or reincarceration of former inmates. Recidivism is the critical outcome variable in corrections, but assessing recidivism is a very complex measurement problem. Re-admission to prison is the most conservative measure; most studies use arrest for a new crime.

The effect of prison or jail sentences on recidivism is an important issue to those concerned with public safety and the cost-effectiveness of putting convicted offenders in prison. Opinions are divided between those advocating longer sentences in the interest of public safety, and those advocating shorter sentences with the assumption that incarceration, or longer prison terms, will not reduce recidivism rates.

The U.S Department of Justice conducted a three-year study of prisoners released in 1994. Among the findings were:

Released prisoners with the highest rearrest rates were robbers (70.2%), burglars (74.0%), larcenists (74.6%), motor vehicle thieves (78.8%), those in prison for possessing or selling stolen property (77.4%), and those in prison for possessing, using, or selling illegal weapons (70.2%).

Within 3 years, 2.5% of released rapists were arrested for another rape, and 1.2% of those who had served time for homicide were arrested for homicide.

The 272,111 offenders discharged in 1994 had accumulated 4.1 million arrest charges before their most recent imprisonment and another 744,000 charges within 3 years of release.