Recidivism in American Prisons


A prison system appeared to introduce some impact on people who violated laws. In other words, prisons are a kind of deterrent measure that prevents people from acting unlawfully. Nevertheless, numerous people still keep committing misdemeanors and felonies irrespective of possible punishments. Consequently, if a person who has perpetrated a crime is pronounced guilty, they should be sentenced to prison. In the United States, many people are incarcerated to serve their sentences in various jails.

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Even though the system above should protect society against its dangerous members by limiting and reeducating them, the real state of affairs is different. It refers to the fact that the offenders who have served their sentences tend to perform crimes repeatedly, which is known as recidivism. The given phenomenon is crucial for the U.S. because many aspects result in recidivism, while not many programs can affect it positively.

Defining the Problem

As has been mentioned, recidivism is a crucial issue for the USA. Van der Linden (2015) argues that it is primarily because the United States “has the largest prison population in the world” (p. 338). Apart from a high crime rate nationwide, this fact denotes that many people with a criminal record are released every year, and they are given a chance to start their lives from the beginning. However, there is a significant opportunity that some of these prisoners will be likely to keep committing crimes after they are released. Further research is necessary to determine actual rates of recidivism in the U.S.

Thus, Alper, Durose, and Markman (2018) show that “83% of state prisoners released in 2005 were arrested at least once over nine years following their release” (p. 1). This information is useful for law enforcement agencies because it proves that previous prisoners tend to continue their unlawful actions, which can be helpful in solving some crimes. This fact indicates that prisons fail to cope with their rehabilitative function.

Furthermore, the report by Alper et al. (2018) says that “eighty-two percent of prisoners arrested during the 9-year period were arrested within the first three years” (p. 1). Even though each of these cases should be considered independently, they demonstrate an evident and negative tendency that is present in American society. It relates to the fact that the released prisoners either feel some difficulties in living a normal life or do not want to leave the criminal world. Thus, recidivism is a severe problem for the USA, and it is necessary to understand its main reasons.

Recidivism Causes

Various points of view are present to explain what makes prisoners deal with reoffending. Hsieh, Hamilton, and Zgoba (2018) stipulate that numerous elements of prison experience are associated with further recidivism among sex offenders. The researchers focus on this particular type of criminals because they account for a significant part of all repeat offenders. Firstly, Hsieh et al. (2018) mention that misconduct in custody is a secure sign that a person will keep committing crimes. It can be interpreted in the way that if the prisoner does not change their behavior while in custody, they will not do it after they are released. Secondly, those sex criminals who serve longer sentences tend to show higher recidivism rates (Hsieh et al., 2018). It questions the belief that longer jail terms are necessary to reeducate more dangerous criminals.

At the same time, Mitchell, Cochran, Mears, and Bales (2017) argue that prison experience “has no appreciable impact on recidivism” among offenders in Florida (p. 571). These researchers focus their study on all criminals rather than on their particular groups, which explains why their information opposes the study by Hsieh et al. (2018). In addition to that, Mitchel et al. (2017) stipulate that the ethnicity of offenders does not influence their recidivism. Instead, gender is of crucial significance here because male criminals are associated with higher recidivism rates (Mitchell et al., 2017).

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This information means that women are subject to a more significant rehabilitative impact of jails, while men represent some threat to society after they are released. That is why it is necessary to implement particular interventions to address the phenomenon.

Offering Possible Solutions

The information above means that recidivism is caused by multiple factors, and specific solutions are necessary to solve this issue. Thus, De Claire and Dixon (2017) indicate that prison visits from family members reduce recidivism rates. The positive result is explained by the fact that these visits are beneficial for prisoners’ mental health. In this case, criminals feel support from their relatives, and it helps them endure current difficulties and stay humane while in custody.

When prisoners do not have communication with their friends or relatives, they become embittered, which makes them commit crimes in the future. In other words, De Claire and Dixon (2017) prove that recidivism is not only the repeat offenders’ guilt because surrounding persons can also be responsible for this. Furthermore, it means that criminals need support to become fully-fledged members of society again.

In addition to that, van der Linden (2015) stipulates that so-called green prison programs are helpful in reducing recidivism rates among U.S. prisoners. These initiatives include specific therapy that is said to influence criminals’ psychological and physical health positively. For example, participants of these programs deal with gardening, landscaping, caring for animals, and other “green” activities. A recidivism rate is between 10% and 24% among the graduates of these programs (van der Linden, 2015, p. 338).

Even though the given rate is significantly lower than 83% mentioned by Alper et al. (2018), these programs are not universally applicable (p. 1). Thus, the research by van der Linden (2015) is a decent justification that specific interventions to address a recidivism rate exist, and it is only necessary to find and use them.


At present, recidivism is a severe problem for the United States. Many prisoners are released from jails but do not change their criminal behavior due to a few reasons. It refers to the fact that some of them do not want to be law-abiding citizens, while others fail to become fully-fledged members of society because of their criminal history. Numerous studies have been conducted to define what causes people to commit crimes after they are released. They include prison experience, duration of jail terms, and offenders’ gender. At the same time, another set of research focuses on specific measures that can be taken to address the phenomenon under consideration. It relates to the positive effects of prison visits and participation in green programs. The latter intervention is considered the most effective since it improves prisoners’ mental and physical health and decreases the recidivism rate.


Alper, M., Durose, M. R., & Markman, J. (2018). 2018 update on prisoner recidivism: A 9-year follow-up period (2005-2014). Bureau of Justice Statistics. Web.

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De Claire, K., & Dixon, L. (2017). The effects of prison visits from family members on prisoners’ well-being, prison rule breaking, and recidivism: A review of research since 1991. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 18(2). Web.

Hsieh, M.-L., Hamilton, Z., & Zgoba, K. M. (2018). Prison experience and reoffending: Exploring the relationship between prison terms, institutional treatment, infractions, and recidivism for sex offenders. Sexual Abuse, 30(5). Web.

Mitchell, O., Cochran, J. C., Mears, D. P., & Bales, W. D. (2017). Examining prison effects on recidivism: A regression discontinuity approach. Justice Quarterly, 34(4), 571-596.

Van der Linden, S. (2015). Green prison programmes, recidivism and mental health: A primer. Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, 25, 338-342.

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