Recidivist in the United States

A repeat criminal offender. The recidivist is the habitual offender who makes a career of criminal conduct. A high proportion of the prison population are recidivists who commit new crimes after having already been convicted, and possibly imprisoned, for earlier offenses.

See Also

Sentence (Criminal Process).

Analysis and Relevance

The large number of recidivists reflects the failure of corrections processes to effectively deal with criminal behavior. The phenomenon of recidivism has prompted two related sentencing policies. First, most states have formally adopted recidivist or habitual offender laws that supplement the sentences of repeat offenders. A second felony, for example, often results in a sentence that exceeds by 50 percent the maximum sentence for the first offense. A third offense, in turn, may result in a doubling of the length of the prison sentence. In many jurisdictions, conviction for a third or fourth felony produces a mandatory life sentence under terms of the recidivist sentencing laws. The objective is clearly not rehabilitation, but segregation of the offender from society. A second policy is less formal, but no less operational. Many judges see prisons as places where repeat offenders become more accomplished criminals. Thus, prisons are not the place for first offenders who are likely to become habitual offenders because of prison socialization. It is largely for this reason that first offenders are placed on probation or given short sentences in local jails rather than state prisons.

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Recidivist from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California



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