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Updated: Feb 28, 2021

Author: Tanya Singh, V Year of B.A.,LL.B, from Banasthali University, Rajasthan


The ever-increasing recidivism is undoubtedly a crucial problem for a penologist on the control of crime and rehabilitation of offenders. The term recidivism connotes persistent indulgence in crime. The jails of the most civilized countries are full of prisoners and the court rooms jammed with under tails. The offenders are backed up, released, re arrested and re sentenced. Many of them got undetected and they are never convicted or sentenced. Considerable public money is wasted on prisoners and other correctional institutions for combating crime, but the problem still persists. American records shows that more than 50% of prisoners admitted to the states and federal prisoners and reformatories have been found to be recidivist. The Indian statistics, however, reveal that there is a slight decline in the incidence of recidivism in recent years.

Who is Recidivist?

Before analyzing the cause of recidivism, it seems pertinent to consider who is a recidivist. As John W. Mannering states,“the criminological literature is replete with descriptions of the personality and background characteristics of recidivist and hypothesis as to why they persist in crime”. In this opinion, recidivist or crime repeaters are often characterized as being anti-social, aggressive, highly competitive, indifferent to the well-being of others and exceedingly egocentric. In general, it may be said that an offender who has a long criminal record and has been a frequent inmate of a penal or correctional institution and who shows scant regard for institutional adjustment can be characterized as a recidivist. Such an an offender is obviously a poor risk for social adjustment.

From the social legal point of view, the term recidivism may be defined as the habit of elapsing into crimes by criminals and recidivist, a person who relapse into crimes again and again. It implies a former prisoner’s relapse into prior criminal behavior resulting into his re prisonization of new offence.

Causes of Recidivism

The personality of recidivist and social factors underlying recidivism being complex, the real problem confronting penologist is the proper identification of criminals for rehabilitative process and assessment of the extent of the effectiveness of the treatment methods. Experience has shown that certain criminals are better risk for rehabilitative process than others, and others may not respond favorably to the correctional measure of treatment. This reflects upon the futility of reformative measures of punishment for certain categories of offenders at the same time. It also raises a very pertinent question as to why recidivist repeat crime even at the risk of veneer severe punishment.

According to G.B. Vold stated that “prevalence of recidivism offers a serious obstacle to a too ready acceptance of the idea of readily achieved reformation.” He proffer to classify criminals into 4 major categories for the purpose of analyzing the problem of recidivism-

Psychologically disturbed criminals who commit crime because of their mental depravity or emotional instability. Such psychopathic personalities should be treated in a mental hospital rather than in a penal institution.

Criminals who are relatively unskilled, less educated and posse’s proportionality low level of ability. Such offenders are psychologically normal person but they suffer from inferiority complex and are therefore not able to with stand the hazards of modern complex society. The ultimate result is that they try to overcome their shortcomings through an unrealistic self-assertion and which lends into criminality.

The third category of criminals comprises persons who are psychologically normal and posse’s proper education, but their identification with law violators makes them criminals. Thus, person who indulge in communal activities of political rivalry are often included in this category of criminals. In such cases neither imprisonment nor reformative can serve any useful purpose.

The fourth category consist of hardened criminals who are professional in crimes and have embraced criminality as a regular way of life. Such criminals quite often organize themselves into regular group associations and syndicate and usually carry on their activities in a well-planned and organized manner.

They carry on their illegal activities in a regular claim which extends from the main dealer down to the large number of users at the base. Each one of them relies on another, and the gang operates as a well-organized network. Drug offences are largely consensual.

Recidivistic Offenders

An offender’s recidivisms depend not only on his or her own personal traits but on largely unforeseeable contingencies such as how others i.e. spouses, family members, neighbors, employers etc. behave towards that offender where the response of these persons has been favorable to the offenders, he is most unlikely to resort to recidivism, but if he shunned ignored, neglected or ostracized there are chances of his becoming a recidivist.

Recidivism generally reveals that there are some specific offences which are more likely to be repeated by a recidivist than others. Thus theft, robbery, larceny, gold chain snatching and forgery are referred to as the common recidivistic crime with homicide, assault, rape, money laundering and income tax frauds not so often likely to be repeated. The most recidivistic offences committed by male offenders are narcotic law violation, fraud, burglary and auto thefts with sex offences are most likely to be repeated by women delinquents.

In case of Suresh Chandra vs State of Gujarat1 and Krishna Lal vs State of Delhi2, the court stated that the parole has the effect of premature release, and it is an accepted mode of incentive to prisoner as it saves him from the extra period of incarnation and prevention from turning a recidivist.

Recidivism in India

Like any other country, the problem of recidivism has reached the dimension of India. The available statistics on recidivism in India indicate a wide fluctuation in different states. Significantly, the percentage of recidivism has shown a declining trend during the preceding 3 years. The data compiled by the National Record Crime Bureau (NCRB) in 2017 shown that the share of recidivism among all the offenders has recorded a considerable decrease in 2017 as compare to the year 2014. Out of total recidivists (2,37,884) convicted during the year ending 2017, as many as 73.2% were those who were convicted once in the past, nearly 21.3% were convicted twice while 6.5% were habitual offenders who were convicted thrice or more in the past.

It must be stated that the incidence of recidivism in urban areas is far more than those of rural regions. Again, sex-wise males are more prone to recidivism than female offenders, perhaps because of their physical strength and adventures temperament.

Prevention of Recidivism

Some of the measures which may be suggested for suppressing recidivism are as follows:

  • The modern correctional methods of treatment of offenders essentially classification of criminals into different categories as they can be adequately punished or sent to the appropriate institution.

  • Experience has shown that individualized methods of treatment serve no useful purpose in the case of a recidivist. At the same time deterrent punitive measures has also proved equally ineffective in their case. It is therefore desired that an integrated programmed of legal sentence and treatment be improvised in the penal system for the rehabilitation of recidivist. It is for this reason that the power of the judges to keep a recidivist under detention for an extra period than the term of his sentence prescribed for the particular offence has been withdrawn in Britain.

  • Recidivist should be kept in prison equipped with maximum security arrangements. They should be under constant surveillance so that society is fully protected against these male factors.

  • Adequate after-care treatment at the time of inmate release from prison or a correctional institution may prepare him for an upright living in society, shedding aside his inferiority complex. This would inculcate hope, self-confidence and self-respect in the offender, which would enable him to adjust himself to do condition for a normal life in society.

  • Dr Walter Reckless has suggested that there are 2 major factors which contribute to recidivism. They are psychological aspect and social pressures. According to him, psychological desire of propensities such as restlessness and aggression might be internal elements which drive towards recidivism. Further the external factors which may push a person towards criminality and repetition of crime could be social pressures such as poverty, family conflicts, neglect and lack of opportunities etc. There are 4 elements which are essential attributes of a law binding a citizen:

  • Lack of attachment to family and the community

  • I want to sense of responsibility and commitments

  • Disregard for morality and social values

  • Absence of beliefs that forbid delinquency.

  • Last but not least, unduly lengthy procedure of criminal trial should be suitably amended to secure summary conviction of recidivist and hardened offenders. Avoiding delays in criminal trials is all the necessary to ensure that the gravity of the offence is not washed off by long delays.

The apex court once again emphasized that reformative aspect of penal justice in Mohd. Giasuddin vs State of Andhra Pradesh and observed that the state law is to rehabilitate rather than avenge. In another case of Ramamurthy vs State of Karnataka, Justice Krishna Iyer speaking for a 2-bench pointed out that sub culture that led to anti-social behavior has to be countered not with undue cruelty but re culturisation. these directives of the supreme court certainly go a long way in combating recidivism.


Recidivism rates for previously detained offenders are very high. These rates can be partially attributed to various barriers to recur, including unemployment, financial difficulties, lack of social support, mental illness, and many others as previously discussed. In question was whether individual coping style could act as a significant prognosticator of recidivism.

Utilizing a cross-sectional study of previously incarcerated convalescent residing in halfway houses, this study expanded the extant literature by examining the relationship between individual coping style and recidivism rates. No crime can be stopped in the name of punishment, and if such a concept had existed then, there would have been no recidivism. An offender can only be stopped from being a recidivist only if the society changes the attitude towards the offenders as criminal always gets born from the society, and such a thing can only be made possible through proper understanding and proper education.


1. AIR 1976 SC 2462

2.AIR 1976 SC 1139

3. AIR 1976 SC 1926

4. JT 2002 (8) SC 314

Website Referred

Books referred

  • Prof. N.V Paranjape “Criminology and Penology” 19th edition

  • Ahmad Siddique “Criminology, Penology and Victimology” 7th Edition


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