Recidivism Definition

Recidivism” is a noun referring to a tendency to relapse into undesirable behavior after having been given a chance to avoid that behavior. It is most commonly used in the context of crime or lesser offenses like truancy, but can also be applied to relapses in alcohol or drug abuse . In the context of crime, studies often distinguish whether the relapse was a re-arrest, a re-conviction, or a re-incarceration. The term can also represents a field of study for criminologists. The verb form of the word is “recidivate”. Use in sentences:

“This program has resulted in a 50% reduction in recidivism among ex-convicts released in 2017.”

“Drug addiction and the level of family support are highly correlated with recidivism.”

“Not many criminologists specialize in recidivism.”

“Offenders with multiple convictions recidivate at a higher rate than first-time offenders.”

Various publications define recidivism as follows:

  • Merriam-Webster: a tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior; especially:  relapse into criminal behavior
  • repeated or habitual relapse, as into crime. In psychiatry, the chronic tendency toward repetition of criminal or antisocial behavior patterns.
  • National Institute of JusticeRecidivism refers to a person’s relapse into criminal behavior, often after the person receives sanctions or undergoes intervention for a previous crime. Recidivism is measured by criminal acts that resulted in rearrest, reconviction or return to prison with or without a new sentence





From recidive and ism, from Latin recidīvus “recurring”, from re- “back” and cadō “I fall”.


“Relapse” and “Repeat Offend” are verbs similar to “recidivate” and their gerund forms (“relapsing”, “repeat offending”) approximate “recidivism”. More colloquially, “backsliding” and “regression” have similar meanings, as with the more metaphorical “retrogradation”.


Antonyms are less clear, but “desistance”, “abeyance”, “remission” and “cessation” come closest.

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