Recidivism: Psychological Sociological, And Economical Factors Free Sample

            One important study in the field of criminology is that of recidivism.  Once recidivism is explored is explored and well understood, it may be possible to reduce the crime rate in certain scenerarios.  When researching recidivism, it is pertinent to look at all factors that may be of influence to the offender.   This paper will take a thorough look into psychological, sociological, and economicalfactors that may play a role in repeat offenders.  Once knowledge is gained regarding common psychological, sociological, and economical issues that trigger repeat offenders, those issues can beaddressed and the person can be rehabilitated after the first offense so that he or she does not continue circulating through the system.

            Before exploring what causes recidivism, it is important to understand the definition of Recidivism.  The word recidivism, according to the Meriam Webster, means “a tendency to Relapse into criminal behavior” (Webster).  Recidivism is more common in certain crimes such as property offenders and drug criminals.  The study of repeat offenders has been a major issue in hopes of reducing crime committed by individuals who have previously been involved in the judicial system.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics “67.5% of prisoners released in 1994 were arrested within three years, an increase over the 62.5% found for those released in 1983.”Even though rearrest rates increase for property and drug offenders, the rearrest for violent offendersremained “relatively stable” (BJS).

“The 1994 recidivism study estimated that within 3 years 51.8% of prisoners

                        released during the year were back in prison either because of a new crime for

            which they received another prison sentence, or because of a technical violation

                        of their parole. This rate was not calculated in the 1983 study” (BJS).

            According to the Organized Crime Digest in 2006 “fifty-six percent of the violent felons convicted in the seventy-five most populous counties from 1990 through 2002 had a prior conviction” (56% of violent felons are repeat offenders).  Having this large amount of repeat ofenders is a major Issue facing criminal justice professionals. This large amount of repeat offenders clearly shows that all aspects of the criminals life needs  to be evaluated and attempt to rehabilitate the offenderbefore letting them merge back into society. As the judicial system continues to delve into the study of recidivism the  sexual offenders  are treated with caution.  Acording to Ryan King, researcher at “The Sentencing Project’ The corrections system is clearly being very cautious About who is being released from prison for sex offenses. It’s a very Significant concern with the public (King).

            One of the first things that should be explored with criminals upon their first offense is the stability of the offender’s psychological state.  J. Steven Lamberti, M.D. published “Understanding and Preventing Criminal Recidivism Among Adults with Psychotic Disorders.” Lamberti begins the article by writing,

                        The high prevelance of adults with psychotic disorders in the criminal justice

                        System had received much attention recently, but our understanding of this

                        Problem is marked by diverging opinions.  Mental  Health Professionals point

                        To deinstitutionalization and our fragmented mental health system as primary

                        causes.   Criminologists minimize the role of mental  illness and contend that

                        persons with and without mental illness are arrested for the same reasons.

                        Meanwhile, practice guidelines offer little guidance to clinicians about how to

                        Address the problem” (Lamberti).

The majority of criminals posess some sort of mental illness. There must be a great working relationship between mental health professionals and criminologists. Often times a psychologic problem has not previously been diagnosed for different reasons.  Most criminals have not  had access to a mental health professional until they find themselves in prison.  Because mental health professionals are not always accessible, “patients with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders are unlikelu to receive adequate treatment within correctional facilities” (Lamberti).  The Department of Justice shows that inmates that have been diagnosed with a mental illness, only receive medication to treat their disorder (Ditton).  While criminals are in custory, their mental health should be carefully studied, diagnosed, and treated. If the criminal’s psychological disorders can be treated with therapy and/or medication, sucesfully rehabilitating them may be much easier.

            Because mental health has become such a presing issue in the courts, mental health courts have been formed. The goals of mental health courts include:

“To improve public safety by reducing criminal recidivism; to improve the quality of life of people with mental illnesses and increase their participation in effective treatments; and to reduce court-and-corrections-related costs through administrative to incarceration” (Almquist and Dodd).

Policymakers and practioners have partnered to address the issue of psychological disorders amont the incarcerated.  Both recognized a great opportunity to address and rehabilitate the psychological problems.  Not only will mental health courts help these offenders return to society as a productive citizen, but it will also help with the costs involved to keep them in prison or another type of institution. Upon the partnership of policymakers and practioners, Menetal Health courts has been one of the most popular outcomes.  The mental health court “combines court supervision with community based treatment services, usually in lieu of a jail or prison sentence” (Almquist et al). If a mental illness plays a major role in the repeat ofender, there is a good chance he or she will be better served through a mental health court. The offender has previously been in the system and obviously was not completely rehabilitated rather they commit the same type or crime or a totally different crime. If a serious psychological disorder, such as schizophrenia or depression, is diagnosed that person may not be best served by being incarcerated. With the implement of mental health courts, the options of retribution as well as rehabilitation are increased.  According to Mental Health Courts: A Guide to Research-Informed Policy and Practice,

“Mental health courts are more effective than the traditional court system and jails at connecting participants with mental health treatment services. Over time, mental health courts have the potential to save money through reduced recidivism and the associated jail and court costs that are avoided, and also through decreased use of the most expensive treatment options, such as inpatient care” (Almquist, et al).

            Once the people studying mental health courts research a bit more who is best served by this type of court, the court can be improved up and perfected upon. In 2006, eighty-seven mental health courts only acepted offenders convicted of misdemeanor crimes.  Ten percent of the mental health courts accepted only those convicted of felonies while fifty percent accepted offenders convicted of both felonies and misdemeanors.  Those organizing the mental health courts recognize the importance of diagnosing mental disorders and treating thos disorders in hopes to decrease the percentage of recidivism.

            While mental health courts are in place, it is criminal recidivism as it pertains to the adult psychotic offender.  “Cognitive behavioral therapy reduces recidivism in both juvenile and adults” (Clark, 22). There are mental health professionals available to employees within the judicial system and within the prison, but in order for the best results in reducing recidivism, the criminologist needs to be aware of causes.  “In order to develop effective prevention strategies, it is necessary to understand why adults with psychotic disorders enter the criminal justice system” (Lamberti 36).  Many time a fragmented mental health system is blamed on psychotic adults entering the system.  However, this can not be the only case as not all adults with serious psychological disorders become criminals (39). When researchers have studied criminal recidivism, they have found that while a psychological disorder may be present and play a role in the offender comitting a crime, often psychosis is not the only deciding factor.

            In addition to the psychological state of the repeat offender, it is also prevelant to explore the sociological past of the criminals.  “The prevelance of antisocial personality disorder is significantly higher among adults with schizophrenia than in the general population” (Lamberti, 44).  During 1981 and 1982 the Minneapolis Police Department performed a study to determine the effect of offenders repeating a criminal act of some sort. The research showed that recidivism increased among those that did not conform to society’s norms. (Shermen and Berk, 1984).  When people are raised without the respect of what society considers to be normal, such as mariage and employment, they are at a higher risk to comit a crime during their life. Without a normal sociological upbringing, the lines between right and wrong become intertwined. Once the experiment conducted by the Minneapolis Police Department culminated, Sherman stated, “If we ask whether arrest influences the subsequent violence of those arrested, the answer is that, in general, it depends on the arrested person’s stake in conformity. Arrested persons who lacked a stake in conformity were significantly more likely to have a repeat offense (686).

            There is more in the realm of sociology to be explored than simply non-conformity. It is also important to lok at shat “group” of citizens are committing the crimes and the repeat offenses.  When theories and research revolving around “chronic offenders”, the question was raised:  is it a small amount of the population committing crimes or is it a large amount of one time offenders?  Robert Tillman discovered that, “recent longitudinal studies of criminal careers have drawn attention to the existence of what are referred to as ‘chronic offenders’ or ‘career criminals’ who appear to contribute disproportionately to the crime rate’ (561). Since non-conformity to socio-norms among offenders and the fact that repeat offenders are contributing largely to the crime rate, it would be beneficial to incorporate employment into some offenders rehabilitation.  Sociologists have explored “turning points” in peoples’ lives, including the lives of repeat offenders.  During that research, come concludede things such as employment made for a turning point. With employment, the offender begins to feel important as well as a contributing factor to society (Uggen 529).

            Along with psychological and sociological disorders, the offenders current economic state plays a huge role in whether or not the offender will commit a criminal act once again.  When offenders are able to find and maintain employment, their rate of repeating criminal behavior is reduced greatly (Myers 1981). When the economy is thriving and jobs are plentiful, offenders are able to find work.  Emploument keeps them busy, and they do not have free time on their hands to commit crimes.  A good economy also means plenty of money is circulating; therefore, there is not much need to steal from another (Boland 126).

            Psychological disorders paired with substance abuse and/or sociological issues are common factors among repeat offenders.  The economy also plays a role somewhat when things are bad.  Until rehabilitation is more individualized and focused more so on the actual treatment of the offender, the recidivism rate will not increase.  Treatment plans need to be personalized and deal with the mental disorders as well as showing the importance of conforming to society.  Criminologists should be more concerned with healing the offender and find what keps them our of trouble, rather than retribution.


            This paper explores why psychology, sociology, and economic wel being of the community all play a role in a criminal’s offenses. Often psychological disorders are paired with non-conformity in a bad economical state.  When all three mix, the tendency for the criminal to repeat the behavior is raised.  With a partnership among criminologists, psychologists, and sociologists, plans can be developed to individually treat and rehabilitate each offender.


Prison Education And Recidivism

Recidivism has long been the scapegoat used to prove that a person never changes.  Recidivism rates increase yearly and show that the majority of inmates that reenter the community are more than likely going to reoffend and become incarcerated again within three years of release.  Over the years, many proponents of prison education have believed that by offering an educational program in the prison system, the rate of recidivism would drop considerably and make it worth the time and effort.  This result is found at some levels of the prison system educational program, but is not equivocal across the differing facilities.

One such program has theorized that the obtainment of a General Equivalent diploma (GED) or high school diploma would create a significant decrease in the number of repeat offenders.  The researchers looked at many programs and found that approximately 30% of prison educated offenders would recidivate.  However, that is a much lower number than the national average which states that of the 95% of newly released uneducated offenders, 67% would reoffend.  This shows a decrease in recidivism of 50%.  The majority of the studies showed equivalent results in relation to obtaining a GED or high school education and recidivism, because increased education builds better self-esteem, happiness, and psychological and societal adjustment (Zgoba, Haugebrook, & Jenkins, 2008).

This study acknowledged a few limitations especially in the areas of sample population, lack of control group, and the enrollment of repeat offenders in the programs.  The sample population was only those offenders that opted to take the offered prison GED program.  The researchers could not force someone to take the program, so all data came from those offenders that wanted to make a change.  Second, with the lack of a control group, again the researchers were faced with having to use the data of those offenders who opted out of the program.  Therefore, there was not a true control group in which to compare the data.  The third limitation was the enrollment of repeat offenders.  These offenders were on their second or higher sentences and could possibly skew the results (Zgoba, Haugebrook, & Jenkins, 2008).

In actuality, this third group did affect the results of the program.  When the researchers viewed the data and correlated the variable without including the third group, the results coincided with the hypothesis in that the completion of the GED program resulted in lower recidivism rates.  When the third group was added, the results were no longer significant.  The completion of the GED program no longer reduced recidivism in a significant manner.  The reason was explained that when the third group, who were already repeat offenders, were added into the study, their chances of recidivism were great even with the education, meaning, that the educational program had very little effect on repeat offenders and would not help reduce recidivism in that specific group.  (Zgoba, Haugebrook, & Jenkins, 2008).

Another factor that could have led to a less than significant outcome was the fact, that many employers now look for people with at least some college education if not a degree.  This would again place those offenders with only a GED at the bottom of the list in regard to job obtainment.  This lack of work opportunity and still a lack of education could very easily push the offender back into a life of crime (Zgoba, Haugebrook, & Jenkins, 2008).

Since this study, others have looked into not only offering GED or high school diploma programs, but also college programs to give the offenders an even better chance of success and a continued reduction in recidivism.  Included in these programs would be interpersonal skills, life skills, and strategies to let go creatively rather than in a deviant way.  The studies have shown that by offering these higher education or vocational classes improves the general population behaviors of those who attend the programs.  Maintaining good behavior is a requirement to stay in the program.  Findings from these incorporated programs show a lower recidivism rate as well as a lower parole and probation revocation rate.  This leads to lower crime statistics, by building up and education the offender rather than just making him/her do the time (Vacca, 2004).

Another factor that influences this decrease in recidivism and an increased enrollment in these programs was the attitudes of those in authority especially the instructors.  Keeping teaching staff is hard, though due to lack of funding for these programs.  This facet needs to be studied more in relation to the educational level and the recidivism of these offenders.  Many believe that the cost is worth it in relation to the crime rate and cost to house an inmate for one year.  The opposition however, views prison educational programs as unjust.  There are many that believe the inmates should not have the ability to obtain higher education at the expense of the taxpayer, but either way the taxpayer pays (Case, nd; Vacca, 2008).

 Until the 1990’s inmate could qualify for federal aid to attend college, but that was revoked due to the public outcry.  What is true is that the correlation between the level of education and the rate of recidivism is positive.  One deters the other.  Education deters the chances of returning to crime.  This is not an end all, and more needs to be discerned, but in honesty, educational programs help to facilitate a true rehabilitative atmosphere, and reduce repeat offenders, making the communities safer and happier.


Case, P. (n.d.). Predicting risk time and probability: An assessment of prison education and recidivism.  Paper presented at the meeting of the American Sociological Association.

Vacca, J.S. (2004). Educated prisoners are less likely to return to prison. Journal of Correctional Education. 55(4). pp. 297-305.  Retrieved December 15, 2008, from Research Library database.

Zgoba, K.M., Haugebrook, S., & Jenkins, K. (2008). The influence of GED obtainment on inmate release outcome. Criminal Justice and Behavior. 35. pp. 375.  Retrieved December 15, 2008, from Research Library database.

Recidivism Rate Of Juvenile Offenders


Recidivism in the United States is one of the serious issues being addressed by every state. A high recidivism rate may infer that sentence corresponding to a certain crime may be too light that former offenders still continue to commit a previous felony. To address the increasing recidivism rate for felons in the United States, the states have enacted the so-called three strikes law. This law offers a more difficult punishment for a three-time offender. However, this created issues and debates concerning its implementation and the appropriation to some crimes. Young or the juvenile offenders, have a different approach. Since they cannot be imprisoned like the adults, recidivism rate can be higher depending on the current dispositions[1] as defined and implemented by the law. An effective sentence or disposition may reflect a lower rate of recidivism.

 This paper defines the concepts of being a juvenile offender and the term recidivism. It also uses the data from the state of Washington and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention for the recidivism rate, which is observed under three (3) factors: (1) gender, (2) race, and (3) type of crime committed. Recidivism rate of juvenile offenders in the United States varies from gender, race, and the felony they committed as discussed in the paragraphs below. This paper also cites laws and legislations surrounding recidivism and the juvenile offenders.

Definition of Terms

Juvenile Offenders

Juvenile offenders are characterized as those who are below the age limit as defined by law to be sentenced. The age limit is different for every state in the United States and ranges from as high as eighteen (18) years of age to as low as fourteen (14) years old. (Wiseto) These offenders undergo rehabilitation or community service as a means of correction of the offensive crime.


 Recidivism is defined as “any disposition in which the offender’s juvenile history contains a disposition”. (Sentencing Guidelines Commission, 2005 p. 1) The recidivism rate for juvenile felons is measured on the percentage of the juvenile offenders who have previous dispositions recorded. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (2006) defines recidivism as a “repetition of a criminal behavior” and recidivism rate as a reflection of “any number of possible measures of repeated offending – arrest, court referral, conviction, correctional commitment, and correctional status changes within a given period of time.” (p. 234)

Recidivism Rate of Juvenile Offenders in the United States

            According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (2006) a national recidivism rate for juvenile offenders is immaterial because the states have different juvenile justice systems. For purposes of data analysis, this paper uses the data from the state of Washington.

According to the Sentencing Guidelines Commission of the State of Washington (2005), Washington courts encountered 13, 127 juvenile dispositions. Of those offenders, 77 percent were boys while 76 percent of the dispositions involved lawbreakers who have previously recorded offenses. Figure 1 shows the recidivism rate for juvenile offenders in Washington. Boy offenders have a higher recidivism rate (77 percent) compared to girls (72 percent). For the ethnic groups, the Hispanics have the highest recidivism rate of 82 percent followed by African Americans (78 percent), Native Americans (77 percent), Caucasians (75 percent), and Asians (65 percent).

Figure 1: Demographics

            In terms of number of recidivists by ethnicity, Caucasians have most number of recidivism at 6,145 while Asians have the smallest number at 246 recidivists. Although Caucasians have the highest recidivism rate, only 1,824 juvenile dispositions belong to them. (see Figure 1) For race and gender, Hispanic boys have the highest recidivism rate of 83 percent while Asian girls have the lowest recidivism rate of 51 percent. Hispanic girls (79 percent) have the highest recidivism rate among female juvenile offenders while Asian boys (51 percent) have the lowest rate of recidivism among male felons. (see Figure 2). (Sentencing Guidelines Commission, 2005)

Figure 2: Recidivism by Race and Gender

            The Sentencing Guidelines Commission (2005) categorized the offenses into eleven (11) main groups: (1) assault, (2) drug, (3) gross misdemeanor, (4) manslaughter, (5) misdemeanor, (6) murder 1, (7) murder 2, (8) property, (9) robbery, (10) sex, and (11) other felonies. As shown in Figure 3, gross misdemeanor (7,253) constitutes to the crime mostly committed by young felons followed by property crimes (2,701). The top crimes with the highest recidivism rates are misdemeanor (84 percent), gross misdemeanor (79 percent), drugs (73 percent), and property crimes (71 percent). (Sentencing Guidelines Commission, 2005)

Figure 3: Recidivism by Type of Offense

Legislation on Recidivism and Juvenile Offenders

Federal Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act 1980

            The Child Welfare Act of 1980 was enacted to prevent children from being unnecessarily or indefinitely placed in foster care. One of its main goals is to provide a child a permanent living arrangement by either (1) returning to family, (2) adoption, or (3) placement to other relatives. The Federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 put amendments to the federal foster and care law to shift the law’s primary focus to safety and permanency. This act also established time deadlines for dependency cases to be handled in courts. (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2006)

Three Strikes Law

            Definitions and Penalties

To reduce recidivism, states in the early 1990’s started enacting mandatory sentencing laws for repeating offenders. The three strikes laws were used for offenders who committed their third major offense. By the year 2003, almost half of the states in the United States had their own three strikes laws. In the state of Washington, its three strikes law was passed in 1993. The law stated that any offender convicted of three (3) different violent crimes must be sentenced to life in prison disallowing parole grants. The California enacted its own version in 1994 which states that a felon will be sentenced twenty-five (25) years in prison after the third felony conviction. Also, the state of California includes crimes like burglary and theft as strike offenses unlike the Washington state. (D’addessa, 2003)


            The three strike laws created debates on the argument that they sum up to cruel and unusual punishment. Critics also argue that the sentences placed were oftentimes not appropriate to the crimes committed. Also the putting in prison of three-time offenders for 25 years would increase correctional costs. The California law also drives critics towards the issue of unequal application of the law and mandatory sentences, as stated by the law, being charged to the offenders. The prosecutors have the discretion of whether qualifying the offense as a strike in their criminal complaints. The disproportion in the application of the law in California means that the law is rarely applied in San Francisco while in other parts, it is used often. (Zirming et al., 2003)

Assessment and Conclusion

            Data gathered from the State of Washington and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention show the same finding for the recidivism rate by gender, race, and the type of crime committed. Recidivism is higher for boys than female young offenders. Hispanic juvenile felons are the most frequent recidivists. And crimes like misdemeanor, drugs, and property crimes have the highest recidivism rates.

            In order to protect the welfare of the juvenile offenders, the Child Welfare Act of 1980 and the Federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 were enacted. These legislations prevent the young offenders from totally wrecking their lives by providing assistance like permanent living.

            The three strikes law is justified to reduce recidivism rate by increasing the punishment received by crime repeaters. On the other hand, some see this as a means of injustice due to poor overall implementation. This paper suggests a joint session of the lobbyists and the some legislators to review the law and address certain issues surrounding it.


Bureau of Justice Statistics. (June 2002) Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1994. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. Pp. 1-16.

D’Addesa, Danielle M. (2003) The Unconstitutional Interplay of California’s Three Strikes Law and California Penal Code Section 666. University of Cincinnati Law Review 71. (Spring)

Myner, Julye, Jennifer Santman, Gordon, Cappelletty, and Barry Perlmutter. (March 1998)  Variables Related to Recidivism among Juvenile Offenders. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology. 42: 65- 80.

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (March 2006) Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. National Center for Juvenile Justice, Pittsburg Pennsylvania. 249 pp.

Sentencing Guidelines Commission. (December 2005) Recidivism of Juvenile Offenders Fiscal Year 2005. State of Washington. Pp. 1-4.

Zimring, Franklin E., Sam Kamin, and Gordon Hawkins, (2003) Punishment and Democracy: Three Strikes and You’re Out in California. New York: Oxford University Press.

[1] Juveniles trialed for criminal offenses receive a disposition rather than a sentence. The term “disposition” is used interchangeably with the term “sentence”. (Sentencing Guidelines Commission, 2005)

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