Criminal justice system has been grappling with high rates of recidivism among inmates because, approximately, half of the released inmates will commit new crimes and find their way back into prison. Since correction systems aim at rehabilitating inmates so that they can fit into the community, a high rate of recidivism is a setback in the rehabilitation process. Increasing rates of recidivism means that inmates do not change their criminal behaviours in spite of the rehabilitative capacity of prisons. Thus, inmate population has been increasing gradually as criminal justice system arrests new criminals, in addition to the released inmates who commit further crimes. According to Deschenes, Owen, and Crow (2006), approximately half of the 630,000 inmates released annually from state prisons will find themselves in prison again within a period of three years after violating their parole or committing more crimes (p.11). Thus, recidivism mainly contributes to a high population of inmates in state prisons, which hampers effective rehabilitation of inmates. Therefore, to enhance understanding of the high rate of recidivism among inmates, this literature review examines if a significant difference exists in the recidivism rate for inmates who return to an urban community setting, and those who return to a suburban community setting.
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Causes of Recidivism
The high rates of recidivism among inmates have prompted criminal justice system to look into individual and environmental factors that predispose released inmates to crime. Individual factors are responsible for recidivism because criminal behavior significantly correlates with nature of crimes that a criminal commits. According to Kurbin and Stewart (2006), individuals who have, a criminal history, committed heinous crimes, abused drugs, low education, and in strict parole are prone to recidivate (p.167). Thus, it is critical to focus on individual attributes in preventing released inmates from committing more crimes in the community. However, more research studies have proven that environmental factors within the community have significance influence on recidivating ability of released inmates. Cullen and Gendreau (2000) assert that, an effective means of reducing recidivism is by enmeshing inmates into societal, religious, cultural, and social values of community (p.127). Therefore, it means that individual attributes need to be in tandem with values and norms for released inmates to integrate fully into society and avoid recidivating.
Examination of recidivism shows that most research studies have examined individual factors, but few have examined environmental factors that predispose released inmates to crime. Current studies show that, due to disparity of social and economic factors in society, nature of community plays a significant role in determining how inmates adopt new life after spending years in prison. Jackson & Lyons (2004) argue that, re-entry of inmates into society poses many questions regarding public safety, effectiveness of correction systems and integration into community (p.26). Re-entry of inmates and community integration are central to rehabilitative process of correction systems because community considerably influence recidivism of inmates. Given that inmates enter into community with different behaviors and victimization, they find it difficult to ingrate into social and economic environments to improve their welfare, thus predispose them to commit more crimes. Hence, social and economic factors of a community determine the rate of recidivism among inmates.
Community and Recidivism
Nature of community that inmates enter after release has significant influence on their criminal behavior because it determines their predisposition to crimes and hence recidivism. Urban and suburban community settings are two principal environments that have differential influence on criminal behavior of released inmates. Social and economic factors differ in urban and suburban environments, and thus, cause differentially impact on released inmates. According to Kurbin and Stewart (2006), inmates who return to poor communities are likely to recidivate more than inmates who return to affluent communities (p.165). Since poor communities have weak societal fabric and lack job opportunities, released inmates resort to criminal activities as means of satisfying their basic needs. In contrast, affluent communities have strong societal fabric that can influence criminal behavior of criminals coupled with availability of job opportunities, which effectively enable released inmates to cope with adverse social and economic conditions they are facing (Carcach, & Leverett, 1999, p.25). Therefore, social and economic factors in a community considerably influence rate of recidivism among released inmates.
When released inmates enter community, they experience a terrific deal of challenges that complicate their integration into their respective communities. Since the integration of released inmates into the community is central to successful rehabilitative process of correction systems, poor integration often leads to recidivism. La Vigne and Mamalian (2004) argue that, current inmates have limited connection to social structures in community, experience health problems, and often poorly prepared to integrate into community (p.11). Released inmates who enter into urban and suburban communities experience different forms of treatment from the community, which subsequently determine their integration into their respective community. Given that urban community has more privileges relative to suburban community, released inmates can easily integrates into urban community, hence, reduces incidences of recidivism. Challenges of integration such as lack of employment, medical services, proper housing, and wholesome social relationships compel released inmates to commit more crimes to satisfy their needs that the community has failed to provide. Moreover, enmity between them and community makes them antagonize societal values and norms by committing further crimes in spite of being from correction systems. Thus, successful integration of inmates into the community is particularly significant because it will reduce high rates of recidivism among released inmates.
Economic factors are responsible for different rates of recidivism between inmates released into urban community and those released into suburban community. According to Harrison and Schehr (2004), research has shown that lack of employment correlates with criminal activities as witnessed in economically disadvantaged areas (p.47). Since urban community is affluent, its members can easily access employment opportunities as compared to suburban community that is grappling with challenges of poverty and unemployment. Consequently, inmates released into urban settings are less likely to recidivate as compared to inmates released into suburban community. Chronic unemployment in a suburban community coupled with poverty add much stress to released inmates making them abuse drugs and commit crimes as means of survival. Hence, harsh economic conditions that released inmates face in suburbs predispose them to crimes and increases rates of recidivism. Solomon, Osborne, LoBuglio, Mellow, and Mukamal (2008) assert that, providing released inmates with employment opportunities to enhance their socioeconomic status is critical in reducing recidivism rates in both rural and urban areas (p.35). Therefore, economic challenges that released inmates, who live in a suburban community, face contribute significantly to increasing rates of recidivism among inmates.
In addition to economic factors, social factors in urban and suburban communities are responsible for differential incidences of recidivism. Normally, released inmates enter into community in which they have committed crimes in it, thus social factors such as peer pressure, criminal behavior and abuse of drugs amongst other social forces still exist. Although released inmates may have received effective rehabilitation during the period of their imprisonment, return to the community that is full of temptations predisposes them to commit more crimes. According to Urahn (2011), community needs to strengthen its norms and values and avoid victimization of released inmates to effectively ‘close revolving door of prison’ and reduce rates of recidivism (p.32). Community needs to be proactive in integrating released inmates into society and preventing victimization that plunges them into drug abuse and world of crime. The difference in societal norms and values that exist in urban and suburban areas is responsible for differential rates of recidivism experienced among released inmates. Velez (2001) argues that, urban neighborhoods have greater public social control as compared to suburban neighborhoods, which has significantly led to low levels of crime and victimization (p.838). Public social control in a community determines the extent of crimes and victimization of released inmates, and thus their rate of recidivism.
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Recidivism among inmates depends on individual attributes as well as environmental factors. Earlier studies extensively dealt with individual attributes such as history of a criminal, nature of crime committed, educational level, and abuse of drugs amongst other factors; however, they did not give sufficient explanation of geographic difference in rates of recidivism. Current studies have tried to examine causes of differential occurrence of recidivism in different social environments; however, few have related occurrence of recidivism in urban and suburban communities. To elucidate differential rates of recidivism among released inmates, criminal studies have incorporated both individual and environmental factors in the analysis of crimes and criminals. Literature review has demonstrated that recidivism rates in urban and suburban communities differ because of mainly social and economic factors that released inmates differentially experience. Conclusively, released inmates who enter suburban community experience more social and economic challenges than those who enter into urban community. Hence, explain why there is comparatively high rate of recidivism among inmates released into suburban community.
Carcach, C., & Leverett, S. (1999). Recidivism among Juvenile Offenders: An Analysis Of Times to Reappearance in Court. Australian Institute of Criminology, 1-31.
Cullen, F., & Gendreau, P. (2000). Assessing Correctional Rehabilitation: Policy, Practice and Prospects. Criminal Justice, 3, 109-175.
Deschenes, E., Owen, B., & Crow, J. (2006). Recidivism among Female Prisoners: Secondary Analysis of the 1994 BJS Recidivism Data Set. Department of Criminal Justice, California State University, 1-75.
Harrison, B., & Schehr, R. (2004). Offenders and Post-Release Jobs: Variables Influencing Success and Failure. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 39(3), 35-68.
Jackson, J., & Lyons, K. (2004). Inside Out: A Plan to Reduce Recidivism and Improve Public Safety. Community Safety and Reentry Commission, 1-178.
Kurbin, C., & Stewart, E. (2006). Predicting Who Reoffends: The Neglected Role of Neighborhood Context in Recidivism Studies. Criminology, 44(1), 1-5-197.
La Vigne, N., & Mamalian, C. (2004). Prison Reentry in Georgia. Urban Institute Justice Policy Center, 1-52.
Solomon, A., Osborne, J., LoBuglio, S., Mellow, J., & Mukamal, D. (2008). Life After Lockup: Improving Reentry from Jail to the Community. Urban Institute Justice Policy Center, 1-189.
Urahn, S. (2011). State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons. The PEW Center on the States, 1-42.
Velez, M. (2001). The Role of Public Social Control in Urban Neighborhoods. A Multilevel Analysis of Victimization Risk. Criminology, 39(4), 837–863.