Recidivism Rates

Recidivism rates are an important measure of effectiveness when it comes to correctional programs and the criminal justice system as a whole. However, there are many misconceptions and misunderstandings about what these numbers truly tell us. Let’s dive into the truth behind recidivism rates.

Currently, the average recidivism rate in the United States is around 65%. This means that within three years of being released, two-thirds of former prisoners will be reconvicted, reapprised, or reincarcerated. However, it’s important to understand that these numbers do not reveal the whole story. There are many critical factors that play into recidivism rates such as the offender’s age, gender, race, and the severity of the offense committed.

For instance, a person who committed a non-violent offense is less likely to reoffend compared to someone convicted of a violent crime. Similarly, older individuals and women tend to have lower recidivism rates than younger males. It’s important to consider that racism and racial discrimination in the justice system can also impact recidivism rates. People of color are more likely to experience bias and racism during sentencing, and thus may be sentenced to longer prison terms or more severe punishments, resulting in higher recidivism rates.

Additionally, recidivism rates do not always accurately reflect the effectiveness of a correctional system or program. Some programs may have higher recidivism rates because they primarily serve high-risk individuals or serious offenders. Conversely, a program that shows lower recidivism rates may not be effective if it only serves low-risk offenders who may be less likely to reoffend anyway.

Moreover, policymakers and funding decisions often focus on recidivism rates, which can result in misleading policies and funding decisions. A program that leads to a 5% decrease in recidivism rates may not be seen as being cost-effective if it costs significantly more than a program that only reduces recidivism rates by 2%. This can lead to funding decisions focused on cost rather than effectiveness, ultimately doing more harm than good in serving individuals who are trying to re-enter society.

In conclusion, recidivism rates are an important measure of effectiveness, but they must be understood within the proper context. Simply relying on these numbers, without considering other factors and demographics, may not provide an accurate picture. Policymakers and advocates continue to analyze recidivism rates, while also taking into account other relevant data, to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the criminal justice system and how it can be improved.


1. National Institute of Justice. “Recidivism.”

2. Urban Institute. “5 myths about recidivism.”

3. Prison Policy Initiative. “Racial disparities in the US criminal justice system.”

4. RAND Corporation. “Recidivism rates and correctional effectiveness.”

5. The Marshall Project. “Why recidivism alone is a misleading measure of the criminal justice system.”

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