Recidivism is the act of a person repeating an undesirable behavior after they have either experienced negative consequences of that behavior, or have been treated or trained to extinguish that behavior. It is also known as the percentage of former prisoners who are rearrested.[1]

The term is most frequently used in conjunction with substance abuse and criminal behavior. For example, scientific literature may refer to the recidivism of sexual offenders, meaning the frequency with which they are detected or apprehended committing additional sexual crimes after being released from prison for similar crimes.

Criminal recidivism is highly correlated with psychopathy.[2][3][4] The psychopath is defined by an uninhibited gratification in criminal, sexual, or aggressive impulses and the inability to learn from past mistakes.[2][3][4] Individuals with this disorder gain satisfaction through their antisocial behavior and lack remorse for their actions.[5]

To be counted as recidivism, the re-offending requires voluntary disclosure or arrest and conviction, so the real recidivism rate may differ substantially from reported rates. As another example, alcoholic recidivism might refer to the proportion of people who, after successful treatment, report having, or are determined to have, returned to the abuse of alcohol.


The effect of incarceration on former prisoners has been a very common topic of discussion for many years. In most cases, it is believed that many prisoners will find themselves right back where they started, in jail. In the United States, 68% percent of males and 58% of females are rearrested, and 53% and 39% respectively are re-incarcerated (2003).[6]

In recent history, the rate of incarceration in the U.S. has increased dramatically, resulting in prisons being filled to capacity with bad conditions and environment for inmates. In many prisons, crime continues inside the prison walls. Gangs exist and flourish on the inside, often with many key tactical decisions being made by leaders who are in jail.[6]

According to a national study, within 3 years almost 7 out of 10 released males will find themselves back in prison. The study says this happens due to personal and situation characteristics, including the individual’s social environment of peers, family, community, and state-level policies.[6]

Many other things need to be taken into consideration as well, such as the individual’s circumstances before incarceration, the things that happened while they were incarcerated, and the period after they are released from prison, both immediate and long term.

One of the main reasons why they find themselves back in jail is because it is difficult for the individual to fit back in with ‘normal’ life. They have to reestablish ties with their family, return to high-risk places and secure formal identification; they often have a poor work history and now have a criminal record to deal with. Many prisoners report being anxious about their release; they are excited about how their life will be different “this time” which does not always end up being the case.[6]


Findings indicate psychopathic prisoners have a 2.5 time higher probability of being released from jail than undiagnosed ones, even though they are more likely to recidivate.[7]

It has been shown that punishment and behavior modification techniques do not improve the behavior of a psychopath. Psychopathic individuals have been regularly observed to become more cunning and better able to hide their behaviour. It has been suggested by them traditional therapeutic approaches actually make psychopaths if not worse, then far more adept at manipulating others and concealing their behavior. They are generally considered to be not only incurable but also untreatable.[8]

Psychopaths also have a markedly distorted sense of the potential consequences of their actions, not only for others, but also for themselves. They do not, for example, deeply recognize the risk of being caught, disbelieved or injured as a result of their behaviour.[9]

Recidivism rates

As reported on BBC Radio 4 on 2 September 2005, the recidivism rates for released prisoners in the United States of America is 60% compared with 50% in the United Kingdom but cross-country statistical comparisons are often questionable. The report attributed the lower recidivism rate in the UK to a focus on rehabilitation and education of prisoners compared with the US focus on punishment, deterrence and keeping potentially dangerous individuals away from society.

The United States Department of Justice tracked the rearrest, re-conviction, and re-incarceration of former inmates for 3 years after their release from prisons in 15 states in 1994.[10] Key findings include:

Sociologist Roger Roots has suggested that the increasing computerization and accessibility of criminal records is having a negative impact on recidivism rates as technology advances. Prior to the computer revolution, persons with criminal records were often able to relocate and start their lives over with clean slates in new communities.

Former criminals rose to become some of America's greatest leaders in law, industry, and politics[citation needed]. This possibility seems to be narrowing as criminal records become electronically stored and accessible.[11]

An accused's history of convictions are called antecedents, known colloquially as "previous" in the UK and "priors" in the United States and Australia.

Certain organizations are currently working towards lowering recidivism rates through the re-integration of ex-detainees into society by helping them obtain work, teaching them various societal skills, and by providing all-around support. One such organization that is currently based in New York City is Exodus Transitional Community.


Minnesota Department of Corrections

Many studies have shown a correlation between prisoners attending rehabilitation programs while incarcerated and their likelihood of recidivism. Most have no significant results, although, some studies have shown a positive correlation. The findings that have shown significant results are normally boot camp experiments that have aftercare programs for at least four months.

The Minnesota Department of Corrections did a study on criminals who are in prison to see if rehabilitation during incarceration correlates with recidivism and/or saved the state money. They used the Minnesota’s Challenge Incarceration Program (CIP) which consisted of three phases. The first was a six month institutional phase followed by two aftercare phases, each lasting at least six months, for a total of about eighteen months. The first phase was the “boot camp” phase. Here inmates had daily schedules sixteen hours long where they participated in activities and showed discipline. Some activities in phase one included physical training, manual labor, skills training, drug therapy, and transition planning. The second and third phases were called “community phases.” In phase two the participants are on intensive supervised release (ISR). ISR includes being in contact with your supervisor on a daily basis, being a full-time employee, keeping curfew, passing random drug and alcohol tests, and doing community service while continuing to participate completely in the program. The final phase is phase three. During this phase one is still on ISR and has to remain in the community while maintaining a full-time job. They have to continue with community service and their participation in the program. Once phase three is complete participants have “graduated” CIP. They are then put on supervision until the end of their sentence. Inmates who drop out or fail to complete the program are sent back to prison to serve the rest of their sentence.

Information was gathered through a quasi experimental design. This compared the recidivism rates of the CIP participants with a control group. The findings of the study have shown that the CIP program did not significantly reduce the chances of recidivism. However CIP did increase the amount of time before rearrest. Moreover, CIP early release graduates lower the costs for the state by millions every year.

This study has shown that the CIP program significantly increases the amount of time after a prisoner is let out to commit another crime. It also saves millions of dollars every year for the state.[12]

Jefferson County, Kentucky

A study was done by Robert Stanz in Jefferson County, Kentucky which discussed an alternative to jail time. The alternative was considered “home incarceration”, where the defendant would complete his or her time at home instead of in jail. According to the text, “Results show that the majority of offenders do successfully complete the program, but that a majority are also re-arrested within 5 years of completion”.[13] In doing this, they added to the rate of recidivism.

In doing a study on the results of this program, Stanz considered age, race, neighborhood, and several other aspects. Most of the defendants who fell under the recidivism category included those who were younger, those who were sentenced for multiple charges, those accruing fewer technical violations, males, and those of African-American descent.[13]

Methadone Maintenance Therapy (MMT)

A study was done on the recidivism rate of inmates going through MMT (Methadone Maintenance Therapy). What this therapy does is instead of putting heroin addicts through withdrawal, they would be administered small doses of methadone, which was hoping to aid in the recovery of heroin addicts. The study was done with 589 inmates who were booked between November 22, 2005, which was the start of the MMT program, and October 31, 2006. The outcome of the study was that there was no significant effect to the recidivism rate. “There was no statistically significant effect of receiving methadone in the jail or dosage on subsequent recidivism risks”.[14] Some of the recidivism rate factors included age, gender, final dosage received (mg), race and previous bookings days in jail. The study explained that aiding in the withdrawal process of heroin addicts has no adverse side effects on the recidivism rate of those individuals. This is viewed as important to the authors because it shows that individuals are able to help out in the withdrawal period without necessarily causing them to slip back into addiction (or at least be any more prone to being rearrested than they were before).[14]


Rikers Island

The recidivism rate in the New York City jail system is as high as 65%. The jail at Rikers Island, in New York, is making efforts to reduce this statistic by teaching horticulture to its inmates. It is shown that the inmates that go through this type of rehabilitation have significantly lower rates of recidivism.[15]

United States Nationwide

The recidivism rate for prisoners released from prison within one year is 44.1%; this number rises to 67.5% within three years of being released from prison. Sixty-seven percent of the people who were rearrested were charged with 750,000 new crimes, which include property offenses, drug offenses, public-order offenses, other offences, unknown, and over 100,000 of these crimes were violent crimes. Of the new violent crimes committed, 2,871 were murder and 2,444 were rape.[1] Male prisoners are exposed and subject to sexual and physical violence in prisons today. Each year, as many as 70% of inmates in prisons are assaulted by another inmate. When these events occur, the victim usually suffers emotionally and/or physically. Further, leading the inmate to accept these types of behaviors and value their life and the lives of others less when they are released. These dehumanizing acts combined with the learned violent behavior have much influence in the causes of recidivism.[16]



a study by the University of Nevada, Reno on recidivism rates across the United States showed that Arizona has the lowest rate of recidivism among offenders compared to all other U.S states at only 24.5 percent[17]


Seven out of ten prisoners, in California, return to jail or prison within three years. This is the highest recidivism rate in the nation. In order to render this statistic, the prisoners will receive counseling, risk assessment, housing assistance, drug treatment and so on. Along with this more health care is provided and available, in the state, for all inmates. This high recidivism rate contributes greatly to the overcrowding of jails and prisons in California.[18]


A study conducted in Connecticut followed 16,486 prisoners for a three-year period to see how many of them would end up going back to jail. Results from the study found that about 37% of offenders were rearrested for a new crime and sent to prison again within the first three years they were released. Of the 16,486 prisoners, about 56% of them were convicted of a new crime.[19]


In 2001, the Florida Department of Corrections created a graph showing the general recidivism rate of all offenders released from prison from July 1993 until six and a half years later. This graph shows that recidivism is much more likely within the first six months after they are released. The longer the offenders stayed out of prison, the less likely they were to return.[20]


A study by the University of Nevada, Reno on recidivism rates across the United States showed that Nevada has one of the lowest rate of recidivism among offenders at only 29.2 percent[17]

United States

Two studies were done to attempt to provide a “national” recidivism rate for the U.S. One was done in 1983 which included 108,580 State prisoners from 11 different states. The other study was done in 1994 on 272,111 prisoners from 15 states. Both studies represent two-thirds of the overall prisoners released in their corresponding years.[21]

This is an image which portrays the percent of parolees returning to prison in each state in 2006. This study was done by Matt Kelley. According to this study, in 2006, there was more recidivism in the southern states, particularly in the Midwestern region. However, for the majority, the data is spread out throughout the regions.[22]


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