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Recidivism in the Criminal Justice, Prison System of America


Crime is an inherent part of every society, and the role of the government has always been to ensure that the perpetrators face severe punishment for their actions. Official data shows that in the United States, the crime rates have been steadily decreasing in the past thirty years, including in the number of robberies, murders, and aggravated assaults (Gramlich, 2020). Essentially, the government, in the form of the criminal justice system, which involves several agencies and institutions, has been able to successfully perform its role in terms of exposure of society to crime. At the same time, there are still many challenges that the system faces, which make the situation with criminal activity in the United States difficult.

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One of the main issues encountered by the criminal justice system remains recidivism which continues to stay topical. Although it can be difficult to provide an exact definition to the notion, generally, recidivism refers to an activity of repeating a crime and is also often called a “return” or “failure” (Ill, 2017). Essentially, recidivism can be described as a return to criminal activity by a person who has already engaged in it in the past. In the United States, the problem of recidivism is particularly significant and affects numerous people. For instance, according to data from 24 states, more than 80% of individuals released from prisons in 2008 were arrested in the following years (Antenangeli & Durose, 2021).

Such statistics demonstrate the severity of the situation, which leads to the question, “How can the criminal justice system reduce the recidivism rates in the United States?” Extensive research over the past several decades shows that to decrease the factor of recidivism, the government needs to implement cognitive-behavioral interventions, introduce substance addiction treatment programs, and facilitate the reentry process.

Literature Review and Argument

In order to establish the main ways of combating recidivism in the United States, it is first necessary to list all of the factors which contribute to it. A meta-analysis conducted by Katsiyannis et al. (2017) showed that people with a history of antisocial behavioral inclinations were more likely to return to crime after being released from prison. Essentially, people who already have certain inclinations toward activities that go against the established societal norms are at a higher risk of engaging in crime on a regular basis. Additionally, family factors such as abuse suffered from parents during childhood also can contribute to recidivism (Katsiyannis et al., 2017).

Researchers also claim that criminal activity and recidivism can be linked to harsh policies and systemic racism (Flores, 2018). Finally, another substantial contributing factor was found to be substance abuse which in many situations causes people to commit a crime (Katsiyannis et al., 2017). The knowledge about the aforementioned factors constitutes an essential asset for developing appropriate solutions to the problem of recidivism.

One of the leading approaches to solving the issue of recidivism or at least partially reducing its rate is the implementation of cognitive-behavioral interventions by different agencies. The core idea behind the interventions in question is the achievement of a positive change in the behavior of a person who previously committed a crime. The practices involving cognitive-behavioral interventions are diverse and target different types of criminals, yet they all demonstrate considerable results.

For instance, a study on the implementation of the Achieving Change Through Values-Based Behavior (ACTV) program showed that the men who underwent it were less likely to commit domestic violence (Lawrence et al., 2021). The program consisted of different techniques, including mindfulness which involved becoming aware of one’s emotions and being able to stay in better control of them (Lawrence et al., 2021). Thus, such evidence indicates that behavioral change interventions can help to reduce recidivism.

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Nevertheless, ACTV is not the only program that can be used by the criminal justice system agencies, and there are many others. In another study conducted in Sweden, criminals were introduced to the One-to-One program, which also contributes to behavioral change. The program involved assisting inmates in developing cognitive-behavioral skills such as interpersonal communication, problem-solving, as well as self-control. The results of the study showed that the program was overall successful in decreasing the recidivism rate, while more than 60% of people who did not complete it committed another offense (Berman et al., 2019). Essentially, cognitive-behavioral interventions are an effective tool for reducing the probability of return to crime.

Another major way of combating recidivism in the United States has been discovered to be the utilization of substance-abuse treatment. The programs involving the treatment of drug addictions among the prison populations are extremely common both in the United States and in the world. One of the main reasons for the popularity of the approach is its high effectiveness and easy implementation. A study by Hollis et al. (2019) involved an assessment of 69 control and treatment groups of inmates who both received and did not receive substance-abuse treatment. The findings revealed a substantial reduction in the rate of recidivism among people who underwent the treatment. Such data makes it possible to assume that the drop in recidivism can be linked to a decrease in the use of drugs by the participants.

Additionally, it is important to mention that many people with substance-abuse disorders also experience mental health problems. In such cases, appropriate interventions exist to address co-occurring mental and substance use disorders (CODs), and they are particularly effective. The key issue here concerns the fact that people with mental health issues and substance addiction are much more likely to engage in criminal activities than those who only have mental problems (Zgoba et al., 2019). As a result, research demonstrates that only 12% of the people who undergo COD treatment programs return to crime, compared to 82% of those subject to traditional services (Peters et al., 2017). Thus, it is possible to say that people with co-occurring problems have to receive appropriate treatments.

Reentry programs are another way of reducing the recidivism rates which can be used in the United States. For instance, a study in Israel conducted an analysis of the impact of a work-release program on the recidivism of former criminals. It found that 42.6% of people were less likely to be re-incarcerated after participating in the program, which involved not only work but also cultural activities, counseling, and a positive social environment (Weisburd et al., 2017).

Essentially, during such programs, inmates learn to adapt to the circumstances of living outside prison, which also must involve support for their mental and physical health (Wallace & Wang, 2020). Another study that involved a systematic review and meta-analysis revealed that reentry programs for adult male offenders were less likely to recommit any offenses (Berghuis, 2018). Thus, it is clear that the interventions listed and described above can actually have a positive effect on the reduction of recidivism.

At the same time, some criticism can be discovered in relation to the provision of interventions targeted at recidivism reduction. For instance, there are propositions concerning the introduction of rehabilitation programs based on ethnographic data (Kreager & Kruttschnitt, 2018). Yet, such an approach has not yet been studied thoroughly, and there is no evidence in its support available. Additionally, some critics frequently state that harsher supervision could positively affect recidivism rates (Harding et al., 2017). Nevertheless, the results of studies point to the fact that stricter supervision does not lead to a drop in the return to crime among former criminals (Latessa et al., 2020).

Thus, to a certain extent, critics are correct in noting that some interventions do not affect recidivism reduction. Yet, some approaches show positive results, so it is necessary to choose the most relevant ones in each case.

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Thus, based on the conducted research, the three main approaches to managing recidivism in the United States can be outlined. At the same time, it is necessary to ensure that each approach is implemented in accordance with the underlying causes of recidivism, which may vary from one offender to another. One person may be likely to commit recidivism due to antisocial inclinations, while others may be driven by their drug addiction.

The first viable way of reducing the rate of recidivism is by offering cognitive-behavioral interventions to offenders. Such an approach will be aimed at helping criminals to understand the need to live in accordance with the law and be able to stay in better control of one’s emotions. The evidence of studies on the use of cognitive-behavioral interventions shows that people who undergo such programs are less likely to recommit crimes.

Another way to contribute to the decrease in the number of recidivism cases involves introducing offenders to introduce drug addiction treatment programs. Substance abuse is one of the severe factors which not only cause people to commit crimes but also do it regularly. Thus, it is important to provide substance addiction treatment to people, especially those with mental health problems. Research once again supports the idea that treatment programs can help to reduce recidivism among offenders.

Finally, criminals must have access to a well-designed reentry process progress which facilitates their transition to normal life. During such programs, offenders must get access to the opportunity of working outside their prison. Additionally, they need to receive appropriate counseling services and experience a positive environment conducive to their successful reentry. At the same time, the existence of ineffective approaches to recidivism reduction, such as strict supervision, indicates the importance of thoroughly studying every intervention.


The problem of recidivism is topical in the United States, and research demonstrates that it can be partially solved by the introduction of cognitive-behavioral interventions, substance-abuse treatments, and facilitation of the reentry process. The data collected from 24 states indicates that more than 80% of people tend to commit another offense after being released from prison. Yet, there are certain underlying factors that actually contribute to the presence of the problem in society. Such factors include antisocial inclinations, family issues, and substance abuse, and by addressing them, the criminal justice system will be able to achieve the reduction of recidivism acts.

Ensuring behavioral changes among offenders can make them able to control their emotions and thus be more adapt to avoiding crime. Substance-abuse treatment is one of the most effective interventions, which significantly contributes to the decrease in return to crime. Finally, inmates must have access to appropriate reentry programs which can help them to transition to life outside of the prison.


Antenangeli, L., & Durose, M. (2021). Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 24 States in 2008: A 10-Year Follow-Up Period (2008–2018). Bureau of Justice Statistics. Web.

Berghuis, M. (2018). Reentry programs for adult male offender recidivism and reintegration: A systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 62(14), 4655–4676. Web.

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Berman, A. H., Gajecki, M., Morien, P., & Priestley, P. (2019). Measuring psychological change and predicting recidivism following the Swedish one-to-one program. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10, 1–12. Web.

Flores, N. E. (2018). Contributing factors to mass incarceration and recidivism. Themis: Research Journal of Justice Studies and Forensic Science, 6, 56-69. Web.

Gramlich, J. (2020). What the data says (and doesn’t say) about crime in the United. Pew Research Center. States. Web.

Harding, D. J., Morenoff, J. D., Nguyen, A. P., & Bushway, S. D. (2017). Short-and long-term effects of imprisonment on future felony convictions and prison admissions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(42), 11103-11108. Web.

Hollis, M.E., Jennings, W.G. & Hankhouse, S. (2019). An outcome evaluation of a substance abuse program for probationers: Findings from a quasi-experimental design. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 44, 395–408. Web.

Ill, L. (2017). Introduction to Criminal Justice. Routledge.

Kreager, D. A., & Kruttschnitt, C. (2018). Inmate society in the era of mass incarceration. Annual Review of Criminology, 1, 261-283. Web.

Latessa, E., Johnson, S., & Koetzle, D. (2020). What works (and doesn’t) in reducing recidivism (2nd ed.). Routledge.

Lawrence, E., Mazurek, C., & Reardon, K. W. (2021). Comparing recidivism rates among domestically violent men enrolled in ACTV versus Duluth/CBT. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 89(5), 469–475. Web.

Peters, R. H., Young, M. S., Rojas, E. C., & Gorey, C. M. (2017). Evidence-based treatment and supervision practices for co-occurring mental and substance use disorders in the criminal justice system. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 43(4), 475–488. Web.

Wallace, D., & Wang, X. (2020). Does in-prison physical and mental health impact recidivism? SSM – Population Health, 11, 1-16. Web.

Weisburd, D., Hasisi, B., Shoham, E., Aviv, G., & Haviv, N. (2017). Reinforcing the impacts of work release on prisoner recidivism: the importance of integrative interventions. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 13(2), 241–264. Web.

Zgoba, K. M., Reeves, R., Tamburello, A., & Debilio, L. (2020). Criminal recidivism in inmates with mental illness and substance use disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 48(2). Web.

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