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Recidivism Reconsidered: Preserving the Community Justice Mission of Community Corrections

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 2018
17 pages

One in a series of papers from the Harvard Kennedy School Executive Session on Community Corrections (2013-2017), this paper discusses the logistical and practical problems that stem from the use of recidivism as the primary measure of the effectiveness of community corrections agencies. 


The purpose of the discussion reported in this paper, however, is not to eliminate the use of recidivism as a justice-system measure, but rather to identify the limits of recidivism as a measure of community corrections effectiveness and encourage the development and use of additional, more suitable measures, including positive outcomes related to the complex process of a person's desistance from crime. This paper argues that recidivism is not a comprehensive measure of success for criminal justice or for community corrections. It may even be harmful, such as when it reinforces the racial and class biases that underlie much of the justice system; therefore, the justice system is encouraged to rely on more flexible and responsive outcome measures. Measures that focus on social development and community well-being are more useful for evaluating the effects of corrections and other justice interventions. The prevalence of recidivism is typically higher for populations with lengthier criminal careers and deeper penetrations into the justice system, so the effectiveness of correctional intervention must take into account the prevalence and severity of criminal behaviors both before and after an intervention. Another domain of effectiveness other than recidivism pertains to changes in variables related to desistance from crime, such as age and maturity, family and relationships, sobriety, employment, hope and motivation, providing a service to others, and changes in self- esteem. 27 references

Date Published: March 1, 2018