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Returning to Prison

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 1984
This study defines recidivism and analyzes data on repeat incarceration.

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 follow-up 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 re-incarcerated recidivist 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 follow-up period. Data indicate that in some States a third or more recidivist 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 follow-up periods used by reporting States are noted, and the study methodology is described. Ten tables and 12 references are included.

Date Published: November 1, 1984