What does “recidivism” mean?

Recidivism is the act of repeating an undesirable behavior after having either experienced negative consequences of that behavior, or having been trained to stop, or prevented from, choosing that behavior. It is most commonly used in the context of criminal behavior, to refer to the percentage of former prisoners who are rearrested for a similar offense. It may also be used in the context of substance abuse or medical relapse.

Two additional distinctions that are important yet not always specified when using the word “recidivism” in a criminal context are:

  1. whether the behavior was a re-offence (whether or not they were caught), a re-arrest, a re-conviction, or a re-incarceration. Most academic studies and government statistics use the frequency of re-arrest to define recidivism.
  2. the time period in which the sample of released prisoners were measured for rates of recidivism. A recidivism rate measured over 6 months from release is lower than a rate measured over 5 years.

Related Words

Synonyms: relapsing, backsliding; habitual offender, repeat offender, re-offender.
Antonyms: reentry, reintegration, and rehabilitation.
The act: recidivate
The person: recidivist

Used in a Sentence

“President Obama Announces New Actions to Reduce Recidivism and Promote Reintegration of Formerly Incarcerated Individuals”

“Prisoner Re-Entry Program (PRI) participants’ one-year post-release recidivism rate is currently less than half the national average recidivism rate.”

BJS first collected the criminal history records of this same sample of prisoners to analyze their recidivism patterns for 5 years following release.