n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Recidivism : a conceptual and operational conundrum

Special Edition 1
  • ISSN : 1012-8093


Even though no official statistics exist concerning the recidivism rate in South Africa, it is estimated to be between 55% and 97%. National and international studies hypothesise that recidivists are responsible for a majority of the crimes committed. Within a criminal justice framework where legal resources and correctional institutions are already overburdened, recidivism is a phenomenon South Africa cannot ignore, or afford. Internationally studies of recidivism are successfully used in risk assessment, as part of crime management strategies and in the assessment of correctional systems' performance. This affects policy formulation and the development and implementation of crime prevention and management initiatives. The professed impact and high rates of recidivism is widely acknowledged in South Africa, subsequently resulting in one of the primary prevention and managerial goals of role players in the criminal justice sector, to decrease recidivism rates. But with no official statistics on recidivism, the question arises how government agencies, organisations and/or the researcher can gauge if these strategies are effective or not. One of the biggest challenges in this regard is that recidivism is not formally defined, resulting in it being defined on an ad hoc basis in accordance with a researcher and/or organisation's operational needs. No uniform system exists whereby an offender can officially be classified as a recidivist. The result is conceptual and operational confusion, resulting in recidivism rates that are characterised by its inconsistency. This accentuates the importance of a uniform conceptual framework for recidivism, as it will have a positive impact on crime management. It will also assist the judicial system with prosecutorial decision-making and penal systems with risk management and appropriate offender care. It is with the above ideals in mind that the focus of this paper is to present a conceptual framework for recidivism from a global perspective, inclusive of a proposed uniform definition and classification system for recidivism. The contribution of the paper lies in the value that the conceptualisation of recidivism will hold in the formulation of effective crime prevention and management strategies.

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