Recidivism is one of the most fundamental concepts in criminal justice. It refers to a person's relapse into criminal behavior, often after receiving sanctions or undergoing intervention for a previous crime.
Sanctions are administered by federal, state or local jurisdictions and include all punishments that are available to the jurisdiction, such as fines, forms of community supervision and imprisonment. Interventions are programs such as drug treatment, employment training or cognitive therapies.
An individual recidivates when he or she commits a crime at any time during or after the intervention or sanctioning process.
National Statistics on Recidivism
Bureau of Justice Statistics recidivism studies that surveyed offenders released from prisons in 1983 and 1994 found high rates of recidivism among released prisoners.
- Of the 108,580 prisoners released from prisons in 11 states in 1983, nearly 63 percent were re-arrested within three years, 47 percent were convicted of a new crime, and 41 percent were returned to prison or jail.
- Among nearly 300,000 prisoners released in 15 states in 1994, 68 percent were re-arrested within three years, 47 percent were convicted of a new crime, and 25 percent were recommitted to prison with a new sentence.
Within three years, 52 percent of the released prisoners in the 1994 study were back in prison either because of a new crime or because of a parole violation (such as failing a drug test or missing a parole appointment). This post-prison recidivism was strongly related to arrest history—within three years of their release, 41 percent of prisoners with one prior arrest were re-arrested, but 82 percent of those with more than 15 prior arrests (18 percent of all released prisoners) were re-arrested. 
 From Bureau of Justice Statistics special reports: Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1983, by A.J. Beck, and B.E. Shipley, April 1989, NCJ 116261, and Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1994 , by P.A. Langan and D.J. Levin, NCJ 193427.