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Seeking Ways to Reduce Recidivism Term Paper

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Updated: Sep 22nd, 2021


The rate of recidivism across the globe and especially in the US has grown to so disquieting a stage that one of the most significant concerns of the criminal justice system today is to seek the ways to reduce recidivism or at least to check the alarming pace of its growth rate. Studies on the various measures of recidivism, such as re-arrest, reconviction, re-sentence to prison, and return to prison due to various charges etc. also suggest the rising rate of recidivism in the US. Recidivism can be comprehended as the reversion into criminal activity and is normally measured by a former prisoner’s return to prison for a new offense and the increase in the rate of recidivism has far-reaching implications. It is estimated that the rate of recidivism in the U.S. has increased by two-thirds, indicating that “two-thirds of released inmates will be re-incarcerated within three years.

High rates of recidivism result in tremendous costs both in terms of public safety and in tax dollars spent to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate re-offenders. High rates of recidivism also lead to devastating social costs to the communities and families of offenders, as well as the personal costs to the offenders themselves… A Justice Department study of 15 states found that prisoners released in 1994 had been charged by 1997 with the following crimes: 2,900 homicides; 2,400 kidnappings; 2,400 rapes; 3,200 other sexual assaults; 21,200 robberies; 54,600 assaults; 13,900 other violent crimes; and over 200,000 car thefts, burglaries, and drugs and weapons offenses.” (Mckean, 2004). All these indicate the need for steps of reducing recidivism which has far-reaching implications to communities where released prisoners reside. In this paper, all these aspects of recidivism as well as various ways of reducing the high rate of recidivism will be explored. When considering the issue of criminal justice a tool for measuring success is rate of offender recidivism. Determining the percentage rate of those offenders who re-offend within a specific time period upon re-entry into society is needed to alter any areas of corrections that might be better able to reduce offender recidivism.

Background and Statement to the Problem

As it is clear in the introduction, recidivism has been one of the central issues of justice system in the US where the rate of recidivism increases at an alarming pace. This has far-reaching implications and the rate if continues to rise at this fast pace it is going to make a huge impact on the social scenario of the republic. In fact, already the issue has been making its great impact on the justice and the community at a large scale. And there are reasonable serious concerns of the issue being the most significant social issue in an immediate future. Therefore, the problem of the resort into criminal activities by the persons already convicted and former prisoner’s return to prison for new offenses has been rated as a serious and hot topic of discussions and debates.

There have been a number of studies on this hot topic and every study conducted to arrive at a reasonable solution to the problem of recidivism ultimately suggested the need for further researches and studies on the issue on finding the vast implications of the problem and arriving at the proper solutions to the serious social issue. Some of these studies have already come up with very serious suggestions. “Substance abuse is a widespread problem among the prison population, with re-addiction after release a frequent cause of recidivism and a barrier to obtaining stable employment… Educational programs address the needs of released prisoners to attain the skills to find and retain employment and typically include secondary, GED, higher education, and vocational training. Education is reported to reduce recidivism by 29 percent with the completion of high school education found to be the most pervasive need.

Employment services programs address the need of released inmates to find work and typically include job preparedness, career development skills, and job placement… Successful programs need to address the fact that inmates and former offenders are a diverse population, and a large proportion faces multiple barriers to self-sufficiency—low levels of education, lack of employment experience, physical and mental health problems, and lack of stable housing. Therefore, solutions to the problem of recidivism must be multifaceted.” (Mckean, 2004). These are significant conclusions that suggest the importance of dealing with the subtle issue with minute attention and great care. If the proper solution that covers the serious issues related to the vital problem of recidivism needs to be arrived at, it is most significant that such great efforts in the form of research and studies on the topic of recidivism are conducted with specific attention on seeking effective ways to reduce the problem of recidivism.

As has been aforementioned, significant studies have been conducted on the issue of recidivism and some of them also deal with the options that have been considered for limiting the number of recidivism cases. It is often found that offenders may tend to offend again after they return to the community. These activities re-offense are often treated as recidivism. “The effect of prison or jail sentences on recidivism is an important issue to those concerned with public safety and the cost-effectiveness of putting convicted offenders in prison. Opinions are divided between those advocating longer sentences in the interest of public safety, and those advocating shorter sentences with the assumption that incarceration, or long prison terms, will not reduce recidivism rates… To date, only a limited number of studies have examined the relationship between time served and post-release recidivism… For some offenders, incarceration and longer confinement increase the risk of recidivism. For other offenders, recidivism rates will either be unaffected or reduced by longer terms of incarceration. It is possible that for some types of offenders, there is an optimum length of sentence which minimizes recidivism. Early release… appears to neither increase nor decrease the overall recidivism rates.

More research is needed for a better understanding about the effects of time served and early release on the re-offending behavior of specific types of offenders.” (Song & Lieb, 1993). All these varied opinions and studies with varied results indicate the need for an extensive and more comprehensive attempt on the issue of recidivism in that it comes up with greater strategies and ways to reduce the rate of recidivism as well as concludes on the exact ways of checking recidivism. There are many different types of violent crimes that are being committed. Therefore any new laws must take that into consideration. One study conducted by Hilton, Harris & Rice (2001, p. 408-423) shows domestic batterers had a 24% violent recidivism rate over a 7 year period while 44% rate for violent offenders of nondomestic related violent crimes. Seeking a way to avoid or prevent violent crimes from being committed is a goal that all of us in the criminal justice system must seek to attain, however we need the politicians to create and enact the laws that will allow us to do so. It is in this background that the initiated study has its relevance and implication. It is pertinent that the most relatable conclusion about the issue is arrived at and for this a detailed analysis of the researches and other studies on the topic needs to be detailed with specific attention to the vital questions concerning the issue. The paper, therefore, makes a detailed and careful attempt to find the most significant issues concerning recidivism.

Research Question

In this background, one most significant research question regarding the issue of recidivism has been how or through what strategies we can attempt to reduce recidivism. In other words, what are the most effective ways to control the growth rate of recidivism?


The rate of recidivism is increasing at an alarming pace and this has been a major concern for the justice system. The official reports on the re-arrest, reconviction, and re-incarceration of former inmates who were tracked for 3 years after their release from prisons in 15 States in 1994 suggest the increase rate of the recidivists. In that year, the former inmates represented two-thirds of all prisoners released in the United States. The highlights include: Released prisoners with the highest re-arrest rates were robbers (70.2%), burglars (74.0%), larcenists (74.6%), motor vehicle thieves (78.8%), those in prison for possessing or selling stolen property (77.4%), and those in prison for possessing, using, or selling illegal weapons (70.2%). Within 3 years, 2.5% of released rapists were arrested for another rape, and 1.2% of those who had served time for homicide were arrested for homicide.

The 272,111 offenders discharged in 1994 had accumulated 4.1 million arrest charges before their most recent imprisonment and another 744,000 charges within 3 years of release. (Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1994, 2002). All these statistics indicate that the rate of increase of recidivism is high. It is also significant to note that among the core criminal justice topics of incapacitation, specific deterrence and rehabilitation, recidivism becomes an important topic. “Recidivism rates are often used to measure a program or jurisdiction’s performance and to compare jurisdictions and sanctioning processes. Measuring recidivism, however, can pose a formidable data analysis problem that cannot be separated from the issues involved in the measurement of crime.” (Recidivism, 2008). It is very important to note that there will be not many other criminal justice issues that may be as significant and much discussed as the issue of recidivism. More importantly, the issue of recidivism has greatly stirred up public estimation and it has caught tremendously the attention of criminal justice professionals. In this background, the study that focuses on the ways of reducing recidivism has great implications and this suggests the rationale of the study.

Theoretical and Conceptual Framework

In an analysis of the issue of recidivism and a research on the possible strategies of reducing recidivism rate, the theoretical and conceptual framework can be very much effective. Among the various theoretical frameworks, the coping-relapse model of criminal recidivism can best contribute an interesting understanding of the issue. “This theory seeks to explain the resumption or maintenance of criminal behavior rather than its origins. The model posits that the recidivism process begins with a precipitating environmental trigger. This event can be highly variable ranging from chronic life stressors such as marital discord, job loss, or financial stress to relatively mundane daily hassles such as having to deal with crowded public transportation systems.

Once the environmental trigger has occurred, the individual will invoke both a cognitive and emotional appraisal of the situation. Individuals who perceive the situation as threatening or problematic typically experience negative emotions (hostility, anger, and fear), an elevated level of perceived global stress (such as, “I have no control over my life”) and, lastly, some awareness regarding the severity of the environmental trigger(s). This in turn results in an attempt to deal with the situation, but given that most offenders are ineffective at coping with the original situation it will not be remedied.” (Brown).

It is significant that the theoretical basis of the Homebuilder’s Model, which includes social learning theory of Bandura (1977) as well as the family systems theory of Bowen (1974), can be essential in understanding the means appropriate in reducing offender recidivism. These are essential frameworks in understanding the effective means for criminal justice and these make the basic principles for effective intervention in reducing offender recidivism. Only principles based on theories such as Bandura’s social learning theory or Bowen’s family systems theory can bring about the desired outcomes. Social learning and behavioral intervention can be best methods in the process of reducing offender recidivism. “Offender change and re-socialization require direct instructional methods, modeling and observation of the individuals in the environment. Behavioral psychologists such as Albert Bandura have shown us the benefit that social learning plays in teaching and modeling socially acceptable behavior.” (Gornik, P. 5).

The reduction of offender recidivism is possible only with the help of such psychological framework as the root causes for recidivism have been psychological in nature. Thus, the strongest predictors of recidivism have been identified as “criminogenic need, criminal history/history of antisocial behavior, social achievement, age/gender/race, and family factors. Weaker predictors included intellectual functioning, personal distress (i.e., anxiety, self-esteem), and social class of origin.” (Gendreau, Paul et al, 1996-07). These can be effectively managed with the assistance of theoretical framework. Among the various approaches, three principal approaches of sex offender treatment include “[1] the cognitive-behavioral approach, which emphasizes changing patterns of thinking that are related to sexual offending and changing deviant patterns of arousal; [2] the psycho-educational approach, which stresses increasing the offender’s concern for the victim and recognition of responsibility for their offense; and [3] the pharmacological approach, which is based upon the use of medication to reduce sexual arousal.” (Recidivism of Sex Offenders, 2001). These principles as well as other complicated strategies of offender recidivism suggest the implications of theoretical background in dealing with the topic of reducing offender recidivism. In short, it is remarkable that several theoretical frameworks such as Bandura’s social learning theory or Bowen’s family systems theory play significant role in the understanding and the treatment of offender recidivism.

Literature Review

Reducing the recidivism rate has been a central concern of the judicial system for a long time now. There have been various types of studies, as it is clear from the discussion, on the issue of recidivism and the studies consider various aspects of the issue. One pertinent motivation of several of these studies is, in large part, to gain a significant understanding of why criminal offenders recidivate and ultimately, to attempt to identify ways to prevent the reversions of criminal behavior. Some research findings demonstrate that traits unique to individuals in distinct offense categories can be identified and by identifying these traits more methodically, sentences potentially can be crafted in a way as to reduce the probability of re-offending. The statistics in such research reports propose that moderating the behavior of the inexhaustible offenders could have a real impact on reducing crime.

Such pertinent research studies, significantly aim at assisting criminal justice practitioners better understand the traits associated with specific groups of repeat offenders, in raising awareness of the significance of those traits when sentencing or making policy, and in endeavoring to recognize what kind of an effective sentence can prevent offenders from re-offending. When the trends and traits of the recidivist cases are analyzed very significant results are drawn. “Previous studies have found that an offender’s criminal past is a compelling indicator of future recidivism… Of adult offenders sentenced to DOC multiple times, those with 1,2,3,4, and 5 prior offenses commit another offense 39%, 50%, 55%, 57%, and 58% of the time respectively. This re-offending percentage continues to increase with the number of priors… Roughly half of all offenses committed by DOC sentenced recidivists were ages 18 through 23… American Indian and Black offenders topped the list of percent recidivating, followed by Hispanics, Whites, and Asian/Pacific Islanders.” All these findings have more general application. (Semmann, 2006).

It is significant to consider that the communities contend with offenders in an assortment of ways. Authorizations established by legislatures, combined with the Court’s interpretation of the constitutional rights of the individual, provide the basis for federal, state and local sanctions. Such sanctions are crucial in controlling conditions of incarceration. A current report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics suggests that recidivism rates emerge to have risen in recent years and the in cases involving parole violations the issue is even greater. The men and women who were released from prisons return directly to the communities. It is necessary that they integrate back into their community which many fail and this feature results in recidivism. More importantly, there have been various studies that imply that about one-fifth of those imprisoned may be “just bad people.”

However, those others who do not belong to this category experience failure largely mainly because of the current economic and social instability, drug addiction, and physical or mental health problems. Various suggestions are often made to reduce recidivism and some significant ones are those follow: “Effective support services and opportunities for rehabilitation can increase the chances of a successful return to a productive life for offenders. Prisons can offer an inmate the opportunity to increase knowledge and improve work skills; treat an addiction, and provide a general understanding of what is needed to successfully reenter the community life. The period of incarceration should be viewed as an opportunity to build skills and prepare for future placement in a job.

Vocational training and/or work release programs have proven effective in reducing recidivism and increasing job readiness. Graduates of certain substance abuse treatment programs are less likely to be re-arrested, commit a drug-related offense, continue drug use, or receive a parole violation; and halfway house and prerelease programs are generally effective in reducing recidivism when effectively run. For ex-offenders, reentry is critical to success. Reentry is defined as the return of a released or paroled offender to their community. This prisoner “reentry” is more successful when it is planned, coordinated and structured and when the community makes a strong commitment to providing opportunities for success.” (Reduce recidivism of adults and juveniles, P. 164). There is general agreement with the proposal that reentry programs that closely monitor offenders upon release, and that provide current treatment programs to ex-offenders in the community, can very well reduce the rate of recidivism.

There has been statistical evidence to the rising rate of recidivism among the offenders and these statistics illustrate the significance of dealing with the issue most carefully. The chart produced below indicates very pertinent trends in the rate of recidivism. The chart presents the difference in the percent of the offenders who returned to prison within one year of release when revocations with a technical violation. As it is clear in the chart, there is an evident trend in the recidivism rate as it increases slightly each year for all four years. However, such a trend is not visible when revocations for technical violations are not counted. It is to be noted that recidivism is calculated within five years of the offender’s release from prison using data obtained from the Offender Based Tracking System. (Recidivism, 2005, p. 2).

Other major statistics indicate that the percentage of the offenders who return to the prisons is on a remarkable increase as well. The table given below presents the recidivism rates for release years 1985 through 1999 and the data represented in the table are very significant in an analysis of the pertinence of studies in the area of reduction of recidivism.

It is obvious from the table that the average percent returned to prison within five years of release is 32.5. We may also make out that the offenders released in 1999 represent the highest five-year total (35.6) percent since the Department began tracking recidivism using OBTS. (Recidivism, 2005, p. 2)

In the chart given below the five-year recidivism rates for the last 15 years are illustrated. As the horizontal line in the chart indicates the average rate of recidivism is 32.5 percent. By the year 1999, the rate of recidivism has been marked at 35.6 %. (Recidivism, 2005, p. 3).

There have serious attempts undertaken by governmental and non-governmental organizations to reduce the level of recidivism. Any initiative that supports these efforts can be considered attempt to make communities safer by keeping the offenders from re-offending as well as building community relationships. In such an effort to reduce recidivism, the Second Judicial Circuit has partnered with the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) and the Crime and Justice Institute (CGI). The significant attempt of the effort was to keep offenders from committing additional crimes thereby reduce the rate of recidivism. Seeking ways to prevent criminals from committing more crimes needs to be the central concern for everybody who may be officers of the court, taxpayers, and most prominently, parents and grandparents, our greatest concern should be. It is necessary to remember that everyone has taken vows to promote public safety as officers of the court. As taxpayers, we need to spend our tax dollars on education, community resources, and programs all of which aim at preventing youth and adults from entering the Department of Corrections. Such attempts can encourage them to become more productive members of our community.

More importantly, as parents and grandparents, we have the duty to protect our children from the chances of crimes and offenses by making the community as safe as possible. All these indicate the need for better efforts to reduce recidivism rate. The abovementioned effort by the Second Judicial Circuit aims at fostering the development of criminal justice, juvenile justice, and social welfare systems to make them fair, humane, results-driven and cost-effective. Another motive of the program is to help organizations execute community corrections practices that are effective in reducing recidivism. The major efforts in this initiative include, firstly, evidence-based practices – those methods that have been scientifically proven to reduce offender recidivism, secondly, collaboration – a critical component in implementing systemic change within the complex web of public safety agencies, service providers, and other stakeholders and, finally, organizational development – the practice of changing people and organizations to achieve positive results. They are considered as essentials in order to move a criminal justice or correctional system from traditional interventions to evidence-based practices – interventions that have been proven to work. (Strategic treatment of perpetrators).

Various studies suggest that education can be crucial contributor in reducing recidivism. In such an important study, ‘Three-State Recidivism Study: Executive Summary,’ it is indicated that education reduces crime in general and recidivism in particular. “Correctional educators have worked for years in the belief that education not only provides hope for their students and an avenue for change, but that it also reduces the likelihood of future crime. Correctional educators have continued to teach while facing constant scrutiny and pessimism from the public and from certain legislators about the value of their work among those who have committed serious crimes. While the climate was always difficult, Congress got much tougher on crime in the 1990s. Inmate eligibility for Pell grants for post-secondary education was entirely eliminated in 1994. Federal adult and vocational education set-asides for correctional agencies were dropped a few years later. There were even limitations put on the right to special education services for the incarcerated. Many states also cut back or eliminated their funds for programs. One state even fired all full-time teachers in the state prisons.” (Steurer & Smith, p.3).

The findings of the research reported in the abovementioned study indicate strong evidence for educating incarcerated offenders. These analyses lead to several compelling conclusions such as the finding that the outcome of correctional education on recidivism varied across states and all states demonstrate a decrease in recidivism. It also suggests that the extent of correctional education’s effect on recidivism was highly dependent on the type of analytic technique used. The bivariate and multivariate analyses indicated promising results of the effect of correctional education on recidivism. It is however noticeable that “the research had mixed results when using the non-traditional bivariate probit analysis. The employment data showed, post-release, the earnings of the correctional education participants were higher than the non-participants. Higher wages generally indicate that individuals are better able to support themselves and their families, and that they are engaged in jobs that hold promise of sustainability.” (Steurer & Smith, p.17).

Proposed Methodology

Research on the topic of seeking ways to reduce recidivism, as it is clear by now, has great relevance in the current situation of criminal justice system in the US. In this background, the proposed study will undertake a methodology in which the most relevant conclusions relating to the effective ways of reducing recidivism are drawn out. Primarily the research will resort on the literature review and data interpretation based on the study that will be carried out.

Research design: the research design will primarily be based on the qualitative method as the main concern of the research is to arrive at the most agreeable ways that will be influential in reducing the rate of recidivism. The collection of data, data interpretation, literature review, literature analysis, and other important aspects of the study will focus on the qualitative research method, though in certain aspects such the statistical interpretation and others quantitative analysis will be preferred.

Research questions: it is most imperative to consider that the research involves pertinent questions as follows which have great implications on the basis of the results of the study. What is the present situation of the rate of recidivism and what are its implications? Do the available studies on the issue of recidivism include ways of reducing its rate? Which of the several steps can best result in the effective implementation of the recidivism-reducing strategies? What will be the ultimate conclusion to the several questions concerning the issue of recidivism?

Sampling techniques and Data collection procedures: the proposed study will collect the most relevant data from the literature analysis and the available research studies which will then be analyzed to arrive at a qualitative result. The sampling will be based on the relevance basis and the various sampling will result in the most appropriate analysis of the samples.

Ethical Concerns: As Neuman (2003, p. 124). has proposed greatest care of the ethical issues will be taken. “Never coerce anyone into participating; participation must be voluntary. It is not enough to get permission from people; they need to know what they are being asked to participate in so that they can make an informed decision. Participants can become aware of their rights and what they are getting involved in when they read and sign a statement giving informed consent, a written agreement to participate given by people after they learn something about the research procedure.” These will be very essential in the collection of the most relevant data.

Expected Results

The research is carried out mainly on the basis of the data from the current studies on the issue of recidivism. Thus, the issue has been identified as a pertinent issue with far-reaching implications. The studies available on the question of reducing the rate of recidivism provide several strategies which will conclude the most relevant strategy in the given situation. Provision of education, community-based practices, reduction of the probable situations of re-offense, effective reentry to the community, provision of employment, psychological boosting such as improvement in self-dignity etc are among the possible strategies that will help in reducing the rate of recidivism.

Implications for Research and Practice and Diversity and Ethics Considerations

The implications for research and practice as well as diversity and ethics considerations are varied in the study on recidivism. It is important to note the current situation needs to be considered. National crime rates have skyrocketed for a long time now. As a result, the efforts to control crime through well-intentioned offender-treatment programs appeared to be patently ineffective. “Offender recidivism rates have increased. Three-quarters of state prison commitments are for nonviolent offenses, resulting in overcrowded prisons and shorter prison terms for more dangerous offenders.

We over-incarcerate some offenders, and under-incarcerate others. Most important, unlike 30 years ago, there is today an enormous body of sophisticated research proving that unlike incarceration, which actually increases offender recidivism, properly designed and operated recidivism-reduction programs can significantly reduce offender recidivism. Such programs are more effective, and more cost-effective, than incarceration in reducing crime rates.” (Warren, 2007). In this background, the studies that focus on the ways of reducing rate of recidivism have great relevance. And, in the same way, the practices especially community-based practices based on such studies which aim at reducing recidivism also have many implications. In doing this, all the ethical practices and various other considerations need to be born in mind. Therefore, studies based on all these will be best accepted in the social situations.


Recidivism has been one of the central issues of justice system in the US where the rate of recidivism increases at an alarming rapidity. This has far-reaching implications and the rate if continues to rise at this fast pace it is going to make a huge impact in the social scenario of the republic. Determining the percentage rate of those offenders who re-offend within a specific time period upon re-entry into society was important to alter any areas of corrections that might be better able to reduce offender recidivism. This research has focused on those areas that result in the best possible and relevant ways of reducing the rate of recidivism. Provision of education, community-based practices, reduction of the probable situations of re-offense, effective reentry to the community, provision of employment, psychological boosting such as improvement in self-dignity and many such are considered possible strategies to reduce the rate of recidivism. Based on the researches and literature review, the analysis focuses on the ways that effectively reduce recidivism. The implication of the study in the current situation is greatly remarked and the findings of the study point to the possible strategies of checking recidivism.


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