Recidivism is the relapse of criminal behavior. In this article, we’ll give a definition of the term “recidivism” and discuss recidivism laws, rates, causes, and solutions.
In the legal system, recidivism is defined as the tendency to engage in repeated or habitual criminal behavior. It often refers to the situation in which a person is convicted of a crime, serves a sentence, and then commits another crime resulting in a new conviction and sentence. High rates of recidivism are used as an indicator that a jurisdiction has poor correctional programs for convicted criminals.
Both the state and federal legal systems have made efforts to reduce recidivism rates by creating laws. For example, California’s recidivism statute, commonly known as the three strikes law, increases sentencing for every additional crime a recidivist commits. Under this law, a criminal’s sentence is doubled for their second felony and tripled for their third violent crime or serious felony (up to 25 years in prison.)
This ballot measure, passed with 71% support in 1994, was prompted by the abduction and murder of a 12-year-old girl in Petaluma, California by a killer who was a twice-convicted kidnapper on parole after serving only half of a 16-year sentence for a second kidnapping.
The federal government and 25 additional states now have laws like the three strikes law imposing up to a life sentence for criminals convicted of a third felony.
Another attempt to reduce recidivism rates was the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. Enacted by Congress, this act mandates life imprisonment for the commission of a serious violent felony or a combination of two or more serious felonies or drug offenses.
The United States has some of the highest recidivism rates in the world. According to the National Institute of Justice, nearly 44% of released criminals return to prison within the first year after their release.
Below is a chart of recidivism rates by state.
|Alabama||31% for men
21% for women
|Montana||38.6% for men
24.4% for women
There are many factors thought to contribute to recidivism, including:
Widely recognized as a danger to the public, there are many ideas on how to improve recidivism rates. These include: