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Recidivism: What It Is and How to Prevent It


Recidivism is one of the most complex concepts pertaining to the sphere of criminal justice. It refers to the relapse of an individual into criminal behavior, predominantly after receiving a sanction or undergoing intervention for one’s previous crime. Recidivism occurrence is measured by the number of criminal acts resulting in rearrests, reconvictions, and returns of individuals to correctional facilities, both with and without new sentences (National Institute of Justice, 2019).

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The expected timeline set for recidivism is three years, which is why it is important to study the issue and discover how its occurrence can be prevented within a limited time. While the identified problem concerns the social stability of the population, it also considers the mental health aspect as incarceration is likely to decrease mental health symptoms and contribute to reoffending. When people are rearrested for their reoccurring crimes, the population of imprisoned individuals stays high.

Literature Review

Understanding recidivism is impossible without illustrating some critical statistics regarding its occurrence. Fazel and Wolf (2015) explored criminal recidivism rates worldwide and compiled a comprehensive dataset for multiple countries. For example, in the United States, the reimprisonment rate was 36% when taking into account a 3-year period. Over 5 years, the rate of reimprisonment was 45% for the United States. In terms of reconvictions, for the 3-year period, it was 45% according to Fazel and Wolf’s (2015) findings, while for the 5-year period, it was 55%. The most common reasons for reoffending in the United States include the lack of education, unstable mental health, broken families, broken families, and the absence of opportunities (Keller, 2016).

However, it is also essential to consider the issue of race as related to recidivism because Blacks are approximately 17% more likely to be arrested after release than whites (Keller, 2016). As more than half of ex-prisoners in the United States receive new convictions for their criminal behavior after being released from prison, which points to the need to explore prevention and intervention methods to address the issue.

After being released from prison, ex-offenders are highly likely to face opposition from the public, especially in terms of reentry support. As mentioned by Heroux (2011) for the Huffington Post, citizens may be opposed to accepting ex-offenders because the latter receive free housing support, job placements, and health care. Such sentiments as “my son who just graduated from college needs a job, why should he be bumped in favor of someone who did a crime?” are standard according to Heroux (2011), suggesting that ex-prisoners are highly likely to be rejected by other members of society as not worthy of support.

However, support is imperative because the chances of reoffending are higher without having a job or minimum social help. It is also important to understand that societal pressure and the lack of respect and acceptance could contribute to reoffending.

Scholars have explored the issue of recidivism at length in order to discover the reasons for its occurrence as well as develop solutions for eliminating it. According to the study by Butorac, Gracin, and Stanic (2017), prisoners represent a high-risk group compared to other offenders and contribute to the substantial costs of societal criminality and violence. In order to manage their behaviors after being released from prisons, it has been recommended to implement programs that encourage academic education, manage substance abuse, as well as facilitate vocational interventions.

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These conclusions by Butorac et al. (2017) suggest that punishment and coercion-based prevention methods are ineffective in managing the behaviors of prisoners because they encourage opposition and violence as a response to strict solutions of management. As mentioned by Dadashazar (2017), counseling represents one of the most prospective methods of addressing recidivism rates among ex-prisoners (5). By using the Levels of Service Inventory-Revised (LSI-R), it was possible to determine the differences in behavior and psychological conditions between recidivist and non-recidivist ex-offenders.

Dadashazar (2017) also determined whether there was any connection between the counseling of ex-offenders and their lower rates of recidivism (6). An important recommendation is thus concerned with encouraging counseling to reduce the risk factors associated with reoffending. Based on the findings of Dadashazar (2017) as well as Butorac et al. (2017), managing reoffending and recidivism must consider the mental health aspect and encourage ex-prisoners to get involved in work and academic study to develop a framework for their future success in life.

Thus, the combination of education, outreach, and assistance, and counseling represents a cohesive and comprehensive prevention method for addressing recidivism. Offering training at prisons is important because many offenders are arrested at a young age and thus do not have access to high education or cannot even finish high school (Florida Tech, 2015). Financial education and career counseling are also important for alleviating potential issues that ex-prisoners because upon release, they will be faced with significant monetary challenges.


Recidivism is a complicated social issue that does not receive enough attention from the public (Butorac et al., 2017). Based on the review of literature on the topic, it is revealed that many people have negative attitudes toward ex-offenders and do not understand that the latter requires free social services that others do not receive despite not being offenders (Heroux, 2011; Dadashazar, 2017).

The American justice system shows to be ineffective in reducing the reoccurrence of crime among former criminals because of the focus on coercive methods of management. However, the prevention of crime occurrence after release from prison had shown to be more effective when programs involved positive reinforcement methods such as counseling to address mental health considerations, as well as educational and vocational training to allow them to prepare for future life (Florida Tech, 2015).

It is imperative to ensure that ex-prisoners are included in a social services support system that will address the challenges of substance abuse, mental health, housing, and poverty. Overall, intense supervision and treatment through guidance and support have shown to be the focus of the majority of interventions recommended for addressing recidivism.


Reoffending after release from prison occurs when ex-offenders are unprepared for ‘regular life’ and do not receive the required support to continue without committing a crime. It has been revealed that around 55% of reconvictions take place within a 5-year period in the United States, suggesting the fact that support systems and interventions are not sufficient enough to prevent at least 60% to 70% of former prisoners from reoffending. The findings of the review suggest that the criminal justice system should be more attentive to the needs of prisoners who are released. Interventions that address mental health, ensure education and job training at prisons, as well as provide social support post-release represent the most comprehensive approach to recidivism prevention.

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Butorac, K., Gracin, D., & Stanic, N. (2017). The challenges in reducing criminal recidivism. Public Security and Public Order, 18, 115-131.

Dadashazar, N. (2017). Offender recidivism: A quantitative study of motivational risk factors and counseling. Walden Dissertations and Doctoral Studies Collection

Fazel, S., & Wolf, A. (2015). A Systematic Review of Criminal Recidivism Rates Worldwide: Current Difficulties and Recommendations for Best Practice. PloS One, 10(6), e0130390.

Florida Tech. (2019). Recidivism: What it is and how to prevent it. Web.

Heroux, P. (2011). Reducing recidivism: The challenge of successful prisoner re-entry. Huffington Post. 

Keller, B. (2016). Seven things to know about repeat offenders

National Institute of Justice. (2019). Recidivism. 

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