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Recidivism is the tendency for an offender to engage in repeated criminal behavior. This usually refers to the condition of being convicted for a crime, serving the sentence, and then committing another crime that results in a new conviction and sentence. High rates of recidivism in a jurisdiction may indicate that other jurisdictions have better treatment or correctional programs for persons convicted of a crime. The United States consistently has one of the highest recidivism rates in the world.

Recidivism is frequently talked about in the context of criminal justice reform with advocates of reform pointing to high rates of recidivism in the U.S. as an indicator of a need to focus on rehabilitation of offenders to address and correct the root causes of the offense. Reform critics cite high recidivism rates as an indicator that selective incapacitation is necessary as few offenders are responsible for a large percentage of the overall crimes committed. Some states have sought to curb high rates of recidivism by enacting three strikes laws which have increased punishments for repeat offenders.

[Last updated in August of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]