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Recidivism (IPA: /ɹɪˈsɪdɪvɪzm̩/. From recidive + ism, from Latin recidīvus "recurring", from re- "back" + cadō "I fall") is the act of a person repeating an undesirable behavior after they have either experienced negative consequences of that behavior, or have been treated or trained to extinguish that behavior. The term is most frequently used in conjunction with substance abuse and criminal behavior. For example, scientific literature may refer to the recidivism of sexual offenders, meaning the frequency with which they are detected or apprehended committing additional sexual crimes after being released from prison for similar crimes. (If to be counted as recidivism the re-offending requires voluntary disclosure or arrest and conviction, the real recidivism rate may differ substantially from reported rates.) As another example, alcoholic recidivism might refer to the proportion of people who, after successful treatment, report having, or are determined to have, returned to the abuse of alcohol.
It has been reported that the recidivism rates for released prisoners in the United States of America is 60% compared with 50% in the United Kingdom but cross-country statistical comparisons are often questionable. The report attributed the lower recidivism rate in the UK to a focus on rehabilitation and education of prisoners compared with the US focus on punishment, deterrence and keeping potentially dangerous individuals away from society.
Some observers now view the treatment of recidivism, especially for criminal offenders who are at risk of re-incarceration, as being a mental health issue rather than a "crime" issue for which choice theory based programs may be highly effective.
The United States Department of Justice tracked the rearrest, re-conviction, and re-incarceration of former inmates for 3 years after their release from prisons in 15 States in 1994. Key findings include:
- Released prisoners with the highest rearrest 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.
An accused's history of convictions are called antecedents, known colloquially as "previous" in the UK and "priors" in the United States and Australia.
Since the word effectively means 'continued rebellion against authority', the ethics and morals of recidivism are dependent on who defines 'undesirable behavior'. Positive examples of recidivism would include several notable individuals of the French Resistance, who continued exhibiting behavior not desired by the de facto rulers of France at the time, and many activists in the American civil rights movement.
Michael Maltz wrote an extensive monograph (2 MB) on the subject of recidivism in the US in 1994.
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