Scroll Top



Recidivism is derived from the Latin word “recidivus“, which means “recurring or falling back to the old place or habit,” specifically crime. Merriam-Webster defines recidivism as a tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior. It refers to a person’s relapse into criminal behavior, often after the person receives sanctions or undergoes intervention for a previous crime[1]. The continuous indulgence of a person in crime is recidivism. The problem of recidivism has existed since time immemorial. Offenders who go unnoticed or are not convicted of their crimes begin committing new crimes. This is the case when the person is not convicted, but some offenders are arrested and punished with a sentence for again engaging in crime. This phenomenon itself is recidivism. There are various reasons for this, depending on an individual’s circumstances.


Before moving on to the causes of recidivism it is important to understand who is a ‘recidivist’. A ‘recidivist’ is a person who commits and repeats a crime again and again after his conviction for an offense. Recidivists are different from Habitual Offenders. They commit crimes of the same nature repeatedly unlike habitual offenders who commit crimes as a habit.


There are abundant causes due to which a person shows recidivistic character, the personality of a recidivist, and the social factors are cardinal to it. When a person gets convicted for an offense, is punished under the law so that after the completion of his sentence or rehabilitative process, he should come back to society and respond affirmatively. But certain criminals do not respond in a way society and laws want them to, they indulge in crime again. As Kathleen smith rightly comments, “The professional criminal that we are dealing with today is no poor, deprived and a moron. The crimes he succeeds in, speak for him. He is often a technical expert and a psychological one; he is clever, patient, observant, scientific as well as greedy, and vicious. The most severe penalties which are awarded by courts are so inadequate and so ineffective that they leave a major crime so glaringly profitable that they invite people to make it their career”[2]

According to American sociologist and a specialist in criminology – George. B Vold (1896-1967), the criminals can be classified into four major categories to analyze the problem of recidivism:-

  1. Psychopathic criminals – these personalities commit crimes because of their mental turpitude or emotional fluctuations. They are very unstable, abnormal, and violent and can be treated by psychiatrists rather than in a penal institution.
  2. Unskilled and less educated criminals – these personalities are psychologically normal but they find it hard to adapt to the growing and developing society, they cannot resist the complexities of the modern world, and to find an easy path for their survival they fall into criminality. Prisons and reformatories are the best way to treat these personalities.
  3. Psychologically normal and well-educated criminals – their identification with law violators makes them criminals. [3] This category of criminals can be called white-collar criminals. They are persons of high social status and they commit a crime in the course of their business. The majority of the time they go undetected and there is a need to award severe punishment to these personalities.
  4. Non-amateur criminals – these personalities are hardened, organized, and professional in committing crimes, they are well aware of the aftermaths of their deeds, yet they involve in such criminal activities.

Apart from this classification, other factors play an important role in making a person recidivist. It depends on how the offender was treated when he offended for the first time. If the offender was perceived at all, and if so, how he was treated. As pointed out by Sir Robert Mark, permanent and determined criminals do not regard the present criminal system as a sufficient deterrent. They are quite conscious of the criminal justice system and find a crime to be very lucrative and rewarding. [4] Also, the offender’s recidivism largely depends on unanticipated consequences such as how the family, community, spouses, employers, etc. act towards the offender, if he is snubbed or ignored by them, the despair will lead him into the behavior that got him into the prison in the first place.


In India, the percentage of recidivism has shown a declining trend during the preceding few years. The data compiled by the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) in 2020 shows that there is a considerable decrease in the share of recidivism among all offenders in 2020 (4.7% of recidivism) as compared to the year 2017 (5.6% of recidivism). [5]Some states have made the laws relating to the habitual offenders such as U.P. Habitual Offenders Restriction Act 1952[6], Rajasthan Habitual Criminals Registration and Regulation Act 1953[7], The Karnataka Habitual Offenders Act, 1961[8]

The Rajasthan Habitual Criminals Registration and Regulation Act defines the Habitual offender as a person who, whether he is a member of a notified tribe or not has within any period of the years following the aforesaid date been convicted not less than thrice of any of the offenses specified in the schedule (which covers Chapters XII, XVI and XVII of the Indian Penal Code). The Supreme Court has also taken steps towards reducing Recidivism in the country, the court in cases like Krishna Lal v. State of Delhi[9] and Suresh Chandra v. State of Gujarat[10], has observed that Parole is one of the most effective and accepted ways to an offender as it prevents him from turning into a recidivist.


The convicts of the crime should be treated individually and sent to a suitable institution, according to their needs rather than mixing different kinds of offenders and treating or punishing them the same way. The criminal may be a one-time offender or a criminal by accident or a habitual criminal, etc. should be treated accordingly. Reformatory techniques might have no impact on some criminals and they should be treated in different ways.

In some cases, it has been observed that individualized methods of treatment or punitive measures don’t work and are ineffective to the recidivists. Therefore the legal system needs to enact an integrated program for the treatment and rehabilitation of recidivists. In the U.S.A. Reentry programs[11] and reentry courts are designed to help the returning citizens (offenders after the end Incarceration period) to reenter society, which ultimately lessens – recidivism, the burden on the Incarceration system, and family and community as a whole. Therefore it is important to develop after-care services as an essential element in the correctional field in all the countries.


The incarcerated persons pay their debt by serving the appropriate punishment or sentence given to them, but society doesn’t accept them and this is how recidivists are born. We need to understand that recidivism is not just a problem of a person with a criminal background, it’s a problem of our society too. When a crime happens in one’s neighbourhood it diminishes the value of that ‘areas’ property, it impacts people mentally. So, if we as a society and community change our attitude towards the offenders we can reduce the recidivism rates, and we can lessen the burden on the incarceration system, taxpayers, the community, and family as a whole. The recidivists deserve a second chance and for that society’s mindset should be changed.

Author(s) Name: Pratyush Saxena (JSS Law College, Mysuru, Karnataka)


[1] National Institute of Justice, a division of the United States Department of Justice,

[2] Kathleen J. Smith: A Cure for Crime, London : (G. Duckworth), 1965

[3] Prof. N.V. Paranjape: Criminology & Penology (including Victimology) 18th edition, Central Law Publications 2019, pg. 719.

[4] Sir Robert Mark: Policing A Perplexed Society, Allen & Unwin (1977)

[5] Crime in India Table Contents:

[6] The U.P. Habitual Offenders Restriction Rules, 1957, No. 2587-R/8-B-62-B-55, Rules of U.P., 1957.

[7] Rajasthan Habitual Offenders Act, 1953, No. 9 of 1953, Acts of Parliament, 1953.

[8] The Karnataka Habitual Offenders Act, 1961, No. 24 of 1961, Acts of parliament, 1961.

[9] Krishna Lal v. State of Delhi, 1976 SCC 655

[10] Suresh Chandra v. State, 1976 SCC 654

[11] Reentry program, The United States Department of Justice (Sep. 29, 2021),