Recidivism Reconsidered: Preserving the Community Justice Mission of Community Corrections

March 15, 2018
Authors: Jeffrey A. Butts and Vincent Schiraldi

The Executive Session on Community Corrections released a new paper entitled Recidivism Reconsidered: Preserving the Community Justice Mission of Community Corrections.

In this new report, co-authored by Jeffrey A. Butts and Vincent Schiraldi, the authors ask us to reconsider using recidivism as the defining measure of community corrections. Measuring the success of community corrections by recidivism, mainly, limits the mission to one of law enforcement, which relieves agencies of their responsibility for other outcomes such as employment, education and housing. Recidivism rates have long been a hallmark of defining success or failure in the criminal justice system, but it has its limitations.

The criminal justice sector is increasingly aware that recidivism is insufficient for measuring the effectiveness of community corrections interventions on individuals or for assessing community well-being. As an outcome indicator, recidivism is subject to at least three significant limitations:

  1. Recidivism is a reflection of both the individual but also the justice system.
  2. Recidivism reflects and compounds the racial disparities of the system.
  3. Recidivism is too simple of a measurement for a complex process of desistance.


The authors conclude with a set of recommendations:

  1. Insist that recidivism comparisons involve appropriately matched groups.
  2. Use other measures to assess the effectiveness of justice.
  3. Increase the policy salience of desistance.


Jeffrey A. Butts is the Director of the Research & Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice; and Vincent Schiraldi is a Senior Research Scientist at the Columbia School of Social Work.

The Executive Session on Community Corrections is a project of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ), the Malcolm Wiener Center, and the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management (PCJ) at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS).

Findings and conclusions in these publications are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the US Department of Justice.

Screenshot of the report.

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