Recidivism is the relapse of a person back into the life of crime after undergoing some form of rehabilitation through sanctions or incarceration

Recidivism is the relapse of a person back into the life of crime after undergoing some form of rehabilitation through sanctions or incarceration. The measure of recidivism is based on criminal acts that lead to an individual facing re-arrest or reconviction in a three-year period after their release. In many jurisdictions, the rate of recidivism is close to 50%. According to the Ministry of Justice (2012), in the recent years, recidivism unlike the general crime rate in most countries is not in decline. Offenders who have been to prison are the ones that pose a high risk of recidivism in comparison to other offenders (Andersen & Skardhamar, 2017, p.614). Many studies have tried to establish aspects that affect the rates of repeat offences within and between different states. The major challenges these studies face are sample selection mishaps, varying definitions of recidivism in different countries, and the length of follow-up. The importance of international recidivism comparisons is to establish a framework that inspects the different factors that explain the differences in recidivism. Furthermore, certain structural or service-related interventions will have to undergo reconsideration in an effort to reduce the recidivism rates.
The fact that each country has a different way of recording and reporting their data makes recidivism comparison between countries difficult but not impossible. In some countries, recidivism is under consideration only if someone faces re-arrest, re-offending, or re-imprisonment, in other countries it is a combination of some or all of the factors. Furthermore, different nations still fail to include certain crimes such as misdemeanors, traffic offences, fines, and a myriad of other crimes (Fazel & Wolf, 2015, p.54). Some countries also fail to have a clear organization to their work hence their samples contain offenders, prisoners and others from open or closed institutions. Varying follow up periods are the final challenge the studies faced. Countries vary their follow-up period from between 6 months to 5 years. Fazel & Wolf (2015, p.56) reiterate that the rate of recidivism differs between different nations and is subject to many varying factors. This should be the subject of research, mainly if more comparable recidivism statistics becomes accessible. Potential justifications are the quality of post-release supervision, imprisonment threshold, varying intra-prison programs, and different prison medical amenity investment, especially for those prisons that target alcohol and drug issues as well as psychiatric disorders.
The recidivism research exhibited data from 21 nations. The research team could not locate regional data, as they were unable to find them. Some countries had to undergo exclusion due to vague reporting standards and follow-up length and variant recidivism definitions (Maruna, Immarigeon & LeBel, 2013, p. 21). In the compiled data follow-up length ranged between 6 months to 9 years. The rate of reconviction was reported in table 1 while re-incarceration was in table 2 (find tables in appendix). It is important to note that the data on reconviction revolved around high-income nations. The data on re-incarceration however involved many different states.
Diving into previous research revealed two main discoveries through comparing the rate of recidivism in different countries. According to Walmsely (2017), some of the nations that have the largest number of prisoners did not record any recidivism data. An example is that of the top 20 countries exhibiting the largest population of prisoners, only two (USA and England) recorded recidivism data. Reporting of data in the 20 countries could prove crucial in developing intervention programs that reduce high number of prisoners in the individual countries and globally as a whole. Data from Nordic countries was obtained as well with their reputation of low rates of recidivism and high quality recidivism data reporting.
The second discovery was that there was a mismatch between a state’s definition and reporting of recidivism. Taking Norway as an example, 2-year recidivism rates ranged between 14% – 42% (Zgoba ; Salerno, 2017, p.332). This is because the sample entailed people who were convicted, arrested, or imprisoned and/or the result was conviction, arrest, or imprisonment. Sweden reported a 2-year reconviction rate of 43% compared to 59% in England. According to Clear, Rose ; Ryder (2011, p. 337), England includes fines in measuring the reconviction rate whereas Sweden does not include fines. Upon the creation of a separate report inclusive of fines, Sweden’s reconviction rate increases to 66%. The heterogeneous nature of recidivism rates revolves around the varying definitions such as whether to include or exclude fines.
Nordic countries do not include fines in their recidivism reporting hence the lower recidivism percentages they record. Even after accounting for this change, there is no clear relationship with imprisonment rates. An attempt to engage in a deeper analysis of the data proves difficult due to the varying definitions. According to Lappi-Seppälä (2012, p. 89), a deep analysis would establish why there is such a huge difference between recidivism rates in different Nordic countries. An example is that in Norway the 2-year recidivism rate is 20% while in Sweden the rate is 43% over the same time. The situation is similar in the UK whereby Northern Ireland has a 1-year recidivism rate of 25% while England and Wales have a rate of 45% over the same period.
Majority of the research on recidivism is USA based. This is because the United States has one of the highest incarcerated populations in the world and sufficient data to conduct research. Going through numerous sources, the researchers all identified four key factors that contributed to high recidivism rates. These factors can be used a guideline while formulating policies aiming to reduce re-incarceration numbers.
1. Social Stigma
One of the main challenges ex-cons face once they get back home is social stigma. Members of the community treat them differently as compared to before their incarceration and this makes it difficult for them to re-integrate back to their community. According to Maruna & LeBel (2015, p. 94), knowingly or sub-consciously, society has built walls around ex-cons that make it hard for them to follow the rules of their release. One informant once described the stigma, as others feeling that particular person or group do not deserve to live. With this kind of view of ex-cons, society ultimately sets them up to fail after release. The society needs to consider the ex-cons are human beings who made a mistake and paid for it by going to prison. Hence, once they have served their time and they need not continue suffering further punishment from society even after release from prison (Maruna & LeBel, 2015, p. 99). Unless society decides that ex-cons are worthy of a second chance and grant them opportunities to establish themselves, then they might not succeed. Giving an ex-con the opportunity to prove themselves can go a long way in helping reduce the recidivism rate.
Social stigma is a main aspect of policies that citizens create and enforce. People would claim to support the fact that ex-cons should get a place to stay and job upon their release from prison to help them settle back in society. In reality however according to Durose, Cooper & Snyder (2014), people strongly fight the erection of DOC (department of corrections) group homes in their neighborhood. Furthermore, the same people refuse to give the ex-cons jobs at their business. Hence, it is noticeable that there is a mismatch between what is best for the community and what the members of that community are willing to do to instigate that change.
2. Lacking Basic Needs
The lack of basic human needs such as food, shelter, and clothing is also a key factor that affects ex-cons. When people lack basic amenities this contributes heavily to recidivism’s cyclical nature. Abdullah ; Shahrom (2012, p.32), state that an ex-con finds it hard to find a house because no one wants to rent them out to them and cannot afford to buy food and clothes because people will not hire them. The ex-prisoners are backed into a corner especially if they have dependents. If they find it difficult to provide for their family through honest means, they have to go back to their illegal ways of making money. This includes stealing, selling drugs, and prostitution. One informant in the research done by Abdullah ; Shahrom (2008) claimed that despite an individual’s strong willingness to give up on crime, society eventually forces them down that road. According to some community members, ex-cons are undeserving of any form of assistance, forgetting the fact that despite their past they are also human beings.
McGuire et al. (2012, p.23) described ex-cons as the “forgotten group”. Another fact to consider is that after going to prison most inmates lose connections to close people and this makes their task of accessing basic needs difficult. Prisoners end up feeling imprisoned even after they get out of jail due to these difficult circumstances they face. Ex-cons have different conditions pegged on their release. An example is that most ex-cons are required to find a house and job within sixty days of their release. If one cannot acquire immediate needs such as food, it becomes harder for an individual to focus on achieving long-terms goals such as getting a secure job and house.
3. Poverty
It is also important to consider the socio-economic status of the ex-cons and its potential impact on recidivism. In the United States, the law requires that any ex-con that requires supervision will reside in the ‘county of commit’ (county where the crime took place). Hence, an ex-con has to stay in the same environment where they committed the crime that took them to prison (Mitchell et al., 2016, p.74). If a person hailed from a poor community, after their release, they have to go back to the same area where finding a job for a normal citizen is a hard enough task let alone an ex-con. This is a rule that has come under heavy criticism since once would assume that taking someone back to the same environment they committed the crime would be bad for them. Furthermore, section 8 of the housing requirements states that felons cannot live in the residence of their loved ones (Polaschek, Yesberg & Chauhan, 2018, p.430). The ex-con will find it hard to move on and this promotes the cycle of recidivism.
4. Community Ties
One factor that is vital in the successful rehabilitation and integration of an ex-con is a positive community/ environment. According to Subramanian et al. (2015), there are two types of community connections, one is personal and includes friends, family, and other forms of support while the other is resource based and entails employment assistance, basic needs access, and housing. A good support system makes rehabilitation more likely to succeed. It is a fact that people with a good community connection have a lower chance of backsliding into a life of crime after rehabilitation than people with no positive community connection. A good community connection includes frequent visits by family and friends while incarcerated. A study on the DOC of Minnesota showed that prisoners who had frequent visits while in prison had a 25% less chance of going back to crime (Mitchell et al., 2016, p.81). In an attempt to assist ex-cons rehabilitate effectively, policies have to consider integrating positive community connections.