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Practical Perspective: Recidivism Defined
By Major Clifford G. Tebbitt, Jail Administrator, Scott County Sheriff's Office
Published: 09/05/2011

County jail From a jail administrator’s global perspective, recent examination of incarceration rates around the world suggests the United States is the world leader in prison population, as represented (“International Centre for Prison Studies,” 2011). It is especially telling when the incarceration statistics of China is compared to the United States after considering China’s population to be more than three time that of the United States (“The World Factbook,” 2011). The United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population, but holds 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, and is causing leaders – from both the public and private sector – to more closely examine the criminal justice system (Petteruti, 2011). With nearly 2.4 million people incarcerated, the United States is home to the world’s highest incarceration rate (Petteruti, 2011). In total, the literature estimates some 7 million people are under some form of correctional supervision (Petteruti, 2011).

The problem is too many lives have been negatively affected by a criminal justice system’s corrective arm that has not shown to produce an expectable outcome (Austin, Marino, Carroll, McCall & Richards, 2001). Individuals released after having been incarcerated have greater chances of returning to custody than not (“State Rates of Incarceration by Race,” 2004). The literature suggests system failure because of ineffective operating principles that have influenced corrections practices for hundreds of years (Samaha, 2006). The evidence clearly demonstrates a generalized increase in recorded instances of criminal conduct throughout the United States while the record shows Iowa presenting an elevated crime rates when compared to other states (“State Rates of Incarceration by Race,” 2004; Sabol, Minton & Harrison, 2007; “The Disaster Center,” 2010). At the same time as the Subject County has reported for years a crime rate that is higher than both the national and State averages, and is higher than the Iowa rate for cities of comparable size (“State Rates of Incarceration by Race,” 2004).

The problem this jail administrator losses sleep over is whether the large number of incarceration has any significant social consequences to the Iowa community. This leadership question is not necessarily intended to address public policy beyond the local operational level; as the facts speak to a much larger overarching gravity. In reality, relative to this question, every day ex-offenders return to communities just like in Acme County, Iowa in need of programs and resources that support the challenges associated with reentry often into the habitats in which their problems began (“CSG Justice Center Reentry Programs Database,” 2011). An abridged literature review indicates from 1999 to 2007, the number of inmates in custody at the national level increased 22.3%, in custody regionally in the Midwest increased 27.7%, and for this period (Acme County Iowa) saw a 37.4% increase (Sabol, Minton & Harrison, 2007).

Within corrections outcome oriented literature, “recidivism” could be reflected in the form of numerous measurements (Samaha, 2006). “Recidivism is the return of a criminal to crime within a specified time interval after release from prison or completion of a punishment for a prior conviction” (Telidevara, 2010, p. 2). Specifically, measurement can examine a wide range of activities that are thought to change behavior that is intended to reduce the likelihood of a participant’s return to custody upon release (Samaha, 2006). Activities can range from participating in programming concepts that address behavior and the motivations that are believed core to causing the law violating behavior, to psychological reasoning that is believed to be the influence of the unacceptable behavior (Fox, 2010; Lowthian, 2010). This learner will survey the literature and synthesis findings to envelop perspective on the current debit over the effectiveness of corrections within the criminal justice system. Experts in this field of study advise the process to be data driven supported and dependent on scientific method to interpret outcomes (Langemeier, 2007).

When analyzing the data one can see that an increase in criminal conduct that is connected to an arrest and placement into a local custody facility results in proportionate increase in the United States corrections system. Clearly, the statistics of recorded criminal conduct creates obvious corrections related outcome questions (“State Rates of Incarceration by Race,” 2004; “The Disaster Center,” 2010). Hence, for this reason the Acme County jail’s new generation jail operation deserves examination to determine if its programming has influenced any reduction in its recidivism rate when statistically compared from past and current releases that have not participated in programming fashioned from evidence base best practices. This is arguably, as in Acme County, a jail administrator’s task to assess and greatest challenge beyond ambition of merely operating a safe and secure custody operation.

It is important for leaders who may be contemplating this perspective not to misunderstand the conclusion, as it would be wise for any jail administrator to center personnel primary focus on operating safely and securely. However, in this instance this administrator believes to advance our profession beyond any speculated “second class” citizenship within the criminal justice system we as leaders must aspire to accomplishing more…. Addressing your jail’s recidivism rates, from an administrator’s perspective, make good sense on any number of levels of consideration ranging from gauging resource investment returns to truly impacting your community’s long-term; and quite frankly from a leadership perspective it’s the right thing to do!


Austin, J., Marino, B. A., Carroll, L., McCall, P. L., & Richards, S. C. (2001). The Use of Incarceration in the United States: National Policy White Paper. Washington, DC: American Society of Criminology. Retrieved from http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~oliver/RACIAL/Reports/ascincarcerationdraft.pdf.

CSG Justice Center Reentry Programs Database. (2011). Reentry and Community Corrections Committee - The Association of State Correctional Administrators. Retrieved from http://www.asca.net/articles/568.

Fox, C. (2010). Developing an offender problem profile. Safer Communities, 9(3), 17. Retrieved from Career and Technical Education. (Document ID: 2108843921).

International Centre for Prison Studies, (2011). “World Prison Brief: Country Profiles,” January 5, 2011. Kings College London – England, United Kingdom. January 5, 2011; Retrieved from http: www.kcl.ac.uk/depsta/law/research/icps/worldbrief/.

Langemeier, R. J. (2007). The educational effectiveness of confinement education of juveniles. Ph.D. dissertation, Capella University, United States – Minnesota. Retrieved from Dissertation & Theses: Full Text. (Publication No. ATT 3284016).

Lowthian, J. (2010). Reoffending following custody: improving outcomes. Safer Communities, 9(3), 36. Retrieved from Career and Technical Education. (Document ID: 2108843901).

Petteruti, A. (2011). Finding Direction: Expanding Criminal Justice Options by Considering Policies of Other Nations. Justice Policy Institute. Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://www.justicepolicy.org/uploads/justicepolicy/documents/finding_direction-full_ report.pdf.

Sabol, W. J., Minton, T. D., & Harrison, P. M. (2007). Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2006. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Publication/abstract retrieved accessed from: www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs.

Samaha, J. B. (2006). Criminal Justice. (7th ed.). Thomson/Wadsworth. ISBN: 0534645577.

Telidevara, S. (2010). In Morgan P. (Ed.), Essays on recidivism. United States -- New York: Economics. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/759413499? accountid=28180.

The Disaster Center. (2010). Iowa Crime Rates 1960 – 2008. United States: Uniform Crime Report -- State Statistics from 1960 – 2008. Retrieved from Corrections.Com Criminal Justice Statistics database, accessed from http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/.

The World Factbook. (2011). Central Intelligence Agency – United State of America. ISSN: 1553-8133. Retrieved from The World Factbook online website https://www.cia.gov/ library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2119rank.html?countryName= United States&countryCode=us®ionCode=na&rank=3#us.

Editors note: Major Clifford G. Tebbitt, of the Scott County Iowa Sheriff's Office. Mr. Tebbitt is a Jail Administrator and a PhD candidate. The series includes: contemporary issues with jail/corrections administration. The series uses the fictitious County name of Acme County.

Other articles by Tebbitt:


  1. billpope on 09/14/2011:

    One thing that skews our incarceration and recidivism statistics, is that inmates are treated fairly well and fed while in jail/prison. I believe in many third world countries, that corporal punish is often used instead of imprisonment which also probably prevents as much repeat offenses. Remember the American boy who was caned in Singapore for vandalising a car? The fear of pain is probably a better deterrent than the inconvenience is incarceration. Another statistic that we will never know from countries like China is how many people are killed for their crimes. Several weeks ago, I read an article about China's mobile death chambers and that they quickly eliminate the need for incarceration. Here is an older article about them: http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2006-06-14-death-van_x.htm I have personally toured jails in Central America and the Caribbean and have seen that while treatment seems humane in these countries, sanitary conditions and actual security of the inmates is somewhat lacking. In short, most inmates probably do not want to return to these prisons. We can fault ourselves for high incarceration rates, but at the same time, we should also applaud ourselves for the civility with which we treat our detainees and inmates. Bill Pope NCIC Inmate Phone Services http://www.ncic.com

  2. 13 on 09/01/2011:

    This is a most thoughtful article. I would like to offer another definition of recidivism, however. Contrary to (Telidevara, 2010, p. 2) where “(r)ecidivism is the return of a criminal to crime within a specified time interval after release from prison or completion of a punishment for a prior conviction” I would suggest that there are actually several types of recidivism, which should be dealt with separately. The first would be as mentioned above - a return to criminal activity related to the original type of crime. The second form of "recidivism" (since it is counted as such) relates to criminal activity unrelated to the original crime ( DUI for 1st crime, larceny for the 2nd, as an example). The third type of "recidivism" relates to the compliance with parole and other restrictions. In this case, simply being late for an appointment with a PO, even with cause, has led to the re-incarceration of ex-inmates. Once the umbrella label of recidivism is broken down, I would be interested to see how much actual recidivism occurs versus how much is related to the lack of resources for housing,education and job opportunities or the punitive whims a an over-zealous official.

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