Recidivism is the act of a person repeating an undesirable behaviour after they have either experienced negative consequences of that behaviour, or have been trained to extinguish that behaviour. It is also used to refer to the percentage of former prisoners who are rearrested for a similar offense. The term is frequently used in conjunction with criminal behavior and substance abuse. (Recidivism is a synonym for "relapse", which is more commonly used in medicine and in the disease model of addiction.) For example, scientific literature may refer to the recidivism of sexual offenders, meaning the frequency with which they are detected or apprehended committing additional sexual crimes after being released from prison for similar crimes.


Youthful Offenders

Over the past two decades, the juvenile justice field has been intermittently shifting between a punitive and rehabilitative approach to dealing with youthful offenders, resulting from organized reformation activities by key stakeholders and progressive juvenile courts, and todays high cost of detainment and incarceration. Recently, poor juvenile court outcomes for many youthful offenders, particularly serious offenders, have influenced an incremental movement away from tough on crime policies. Furthermore, the number of youth involved annually in the juvenile justice system nationwide, while trending downward in recent years, is still somewhat staggering over 2.1 million arrests of youth under age 18 million delinquency cases youth held in detention centers and over 100,000 youth held in correctional facilities.


Juvenile delinquency

There exist many risk factors for juvenile justice system involvement and youth delinquency. These risks are related to the individual (early aggression, mental health problems, and substance abuse), family (inconsistent parenting and trauma), school (academic problems, educational deficits, and special education disabilities), and neighborhood (high levels of unemployment, residential instability, and family disruptions). In addition, a number of youth demographic factors have been consistently found to predict juvenile court supervision; hence, researchers usually control for their impact in their analysis. These factors include juvenilesage (older youth are more likely), gender (males are more likely, though females are increasing in numbers), race (minorities are more likely), and socioeconomic status (juveniles living in poor households are more likely, especially for serious forms of delinquent behaviors).Because of the existence of multiple problems and risks, predicting juvenile delinquency outcomes is difficult.


Juvenile Recidivism

Research that attempts to predict juvenile recidivism has been limited, with results generally accounting for approximately 20% of the variance. Many of these models measured recidivism as re-adjudication by the juvenile court, and not recidivism into a detention center or incarceration facility. When measuring recidivism as re-adjudication, identified predictive factors of importance for this study include age at first offense severity or seriousness of delinquency prior arrest lower academic achievement behavioral problems including impulsivity and race.


While measuring recidivism as a re-adjudication is informative, not all youth in this situation are subsequently placed into a detention center. This detention center placement is of particular interest in this study, because it often increases subsequent youth offending and recidivism. In other words, the experience of detention is unique and this experience makes it more likely that detained youth will continue to engage in delinquent behavior, and it may increase the odds of recidivism. Hence, it is important to identify the risk factors that impact both detention placement as well as detention placement recidivism. There are a limited number of studies that define recidivism as a return placement into a detention or incarceration facility. In a review of factors which predict recidivism to placement, carrying a weapon, gang membership, and neglect or abuse by a parent was found significant. Others found that youth who recidivated to placement were more likely to have both personal- and school-related problems and the likelihood of being detained was greater for minority youth compared to nonminority youth even for the same offense. Most recently, in a review of what legal and extra-legal factors predicted detention, race (African-American and Hispanic), prior arrest, and personal crimes were found significant.


Youth Mental Health problems, Delinquency, and Recidivism

Mental health problems and disorders are linked to youth offending behaviors and delinquency adjudication; though it is not clear if this link is direct or if these difficulties lead to other risk factors, poor decision-making, or the interaction of various other risks. Still, reviews have consistently found that children and youth who are involved with mental health services have a significantly higher risk for juvenile court involvement.


A number of pathways have been established which link specific childhood mental health difficulties to juvenile court involvement. Developmental studies have found behavioral and emotional problems to be predictive of later delinquency and substance abuse. Similarly, early childhood aggressive behaviors have been found predictive of later delinquent behaviors and activities. Attention and hyperactivity problems are linked to later high risk taking and more violent offending behavior. Antisocial behaviors and emotional problems in early childhood are markers for later delinquent activities (Wasserman et al., 2003). In addition, childhood depression and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have been found linked to later delinquency, evidenced through physical aggression and stealing behaviors. Findings have been mixed regarding the relationship between mental health treatment needs (including substance abuse) and severity of juvenile court disposition. Indeed, youth mental health problems (broadly defined) have been found to predict both less and more severe dispositions; whereas substance abuse leads to more severe sanctions, including confinement.


Youthful offenders needing secure placement pose a particularly difficult challenge to the juvenile courts, for juvenile detention and incarceration facilities are disproportionately populated by youth with at least one, if not multiple, mental health disorders and/or school-related disabilities. Within these correctional facilities, 60% of the youth have an identified mental health disorder (with 20% of these disorders severely impacting functioning). Over 35% of the youth have an identified special education disability and between 30 and 50% of the youth have a significant substance abuse disorder.


Suicidal behaviors

This situation becomes more complicated when reviewing youth mental health problems along with prior suicide attempt. Suicide is a significant concern for detained and incarcerated youth, with 110 suicides occurring between 1995 and 1999. A rate that is multiple times more frequent than what occurs in the general youth community. In addition, in one study of suicides in Utah, 63% of youth in the community who completed the suicide had past juvenile justice system contact. While suicide completion is tragic, the reports of suicide ideation and attempts look to be significantly greater within this confined youthful offender population than in the general youth population. In one study of 900 incarcerated youth, over 30% reported a past suicide attempt while in a most recent nationally representative survey of over 7000 youthful offenders being held in facilities, over 22% reported a past suicide attempt. A number of youth suicide risk factors are relevant here and include numerous mental health disorders, drug use, antisocial behaviors, and delinquency.


Aggression frequency and violent behaviors increased with increased suicidality levels while getting involved with fights and using weapons were found to be high risks for suicide ideation. These acting out and antisocial behaviors, and specifically conduct disorder, were often found among suicidal youth. Evidence of the ADHD link to suicide attempts is less clear, with some researchers finding higher rates of ADHD in these populations. However, predicting suicide risk is not easy because risk factors vary in their impact and intensity for incarcerated and formally adjudicated youth, though this population is in general at a higher suicidal-behavior risk Even when other risk factors age, ethnicity, gender, alcohol and drug problems, depression, and impulsivity were accounted for, delinquency was still related to suicidal ideation and attempts up to one year after adjudication and to ideation up to seven years after adjudication.


Suggested Ways to reduce Recidivism

Juvenile programs often have very little effects on the amount of recidivism they are trying to reduce. If they redirected their focus, they could have more positive outcomes. Juvenile offenders are not to be forgotten. They are not the bane of society, and they should not be viewed as less-than-human. Many of the studies studied in this research paper suggest that the importance of fixing juvenile recidivism is not being approached in a manner that it should. It is in the opinion of this author that the juvenile justice system focuses on a child-first policy. That would entail one-on-one time between a counsellor and their assigned juvenile offender. By assigning one offender to one counsellor, it would allow for stronger bonds to be made and would possibly eliminate the feeling of isolation that many offenders feel. This would mean that the government would be required to place more money in programs that specialize in one-on-one connections, but these programs seem to have the most promising futures.


Another way to reduce recidivism would be to change the ways in which we speak about juvenile offenders. They are often referred to as criminals, but that stigma is attached to adults (Ritter, 2010, p. 239). Ritter also suggests that juveniles are being further stigmatized by the term “delinquent” as well, and that could be remedied by the creation of other terms of referral (p. 39). Words have a lot of power, and if juveniles continue to be related with words that stigmatize them, then their behaviour will never change, and recidivism rates will never drop.


 Finally, there should be reformation in the ways in which studies are conducted about those with mental disorders, and family criminality. The way girls and boys are studied in relation to juvenile delinquency should also be furthered. Juvenile delinquency is something that is not as studied as it should be, and that is one of the sole reasons why recidivism is so high: there is a lack of understanding that could be remedied if better, more thorough, studies were conducted. What many people forget is that juveniles are children, and their lives are important. If ways to prevent them from committing crimes can be achieved, then all forces should be behind trying to figure those ways out.



While the information on juvenile recidivism is incomplete and the data available is still bleak, the rate of recidivism for juveniles is far too high, especially for juveniles who have been involved in the child welfare system, and juveniles of colour. New approaches are being taken in some juvenile justice systems to prove that progress can be made if effort is put in to changing policies, thus improving the lives of the at-risk juvenile population.



1. The Extent of Juvenile Recidivism



2. Recidivism: Definition, Causes and Prevention



3. Factors Relating to Recidivism for Youthful Offenders



4. Evidence-based Practices to Lower Recidivism