Returning to Prison

John F. Wallerstedt, Bureau of Justice Statistics, November 1, 1984

Recidivism generally refers to reincarceration or the return of released offenders to the custody of State correctional authorities. Similarly, a recidivism rate is the cumulative percentage of a prison-release population returned to prison during a specified followup period. The most important finding was a marked similarity in recidivism among these 14 States: Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin. Close to one-third of State prisoners recidivated within 3 years, and one-quarter within 2 years or less. When reincarcerated recidivsts were compared according to their original offenses, property offenders were found more likely to return to prison (a median of 36.8 percent) than violent offenders (31.5 percent). The median recidivism rate among reporting States was the highest for robbery and theft. The lowest rate was for illicit drugs, homicide, forgery/fraud, embezzlement, and sexual assault. Broad patterns of the relationship between recidivism and age are indicated: the younger the age at release, the greater was the likelihood of being returned to prison before the end of the 3-year followup period. Data indicate that in some States a third or more recidivsts were returned for offenses committed after the completion of a supervision period. Additional studies should be undertaken to identify issues surrounding the high rates of recidivism among habitual perpetrators of certain property crimes, especially burglary and theft. Variations in the followup periods used by reporting States are noted, and the study methodology is described. Ten tables and 12 references are included.

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