The ?Causes of Recidivism
The fact that there are such high rates of Recidivism in Scotland suggests that there has been no sufficient action to address the causes. It would be too general to assume Recidivism occurs as a result of factors that influenced any initial crime, or due to a single factor alone, although this may be the case in some instances. Prisons: One such cause of Recidivism is prisons. It is a common-held public view that prisons do not do enough to eliminate Recidivism, as I found from my questionnaire sample.
Of 30 responses, 28 said that they felt prisons did not do enough to tackle re-offending. 1 Evidence in chapter 1 supports this view. It is part of the Scottish Prison Service’s mission statement to provide “correctional excellence” in which they look to tackle Recidivism as effectively as possible. However, if 31% of first-time offenders are being reconvicted within 48 months of release, constituting to 37%, more than a third, of all recidivists, then either prison or action beyond prison are failing.
Italian professor and criminologist Cesare Lombroso stated in his book “L’Uomo Delinquente” (The Criminal Man) written in 1876 that he believed prisons were “criminal universities”. By this, he meant that prison might simply act as a criminal education rather than a form of punishment or rehabilitation. This belief is very credible due to the exposure in prison to renowned and experienced criminals – hardened criminals as they a referred to – and the criminal culture and environment of prisons.
This would go some way to explaining why so many first-time offenders are reconvicted within four years of release, having been influenced by those of a criminal nature around them. 2 Prisons may also fail in their attempts to fulfil their aims. One aim is to rehabilitate criminals. A potential stumbling block is that some people – despite perhaps showing promise in certain rehabilitation programmes – simply do not change or cannot remain changed persons. The BBC documentary shown in August 2000, “Little Angels” – http://www. bbc. co. uk/drama/little_angels.shtml told of two different people who were imprisoned in relation to a drugs problem. Both had gone through rehabilitation programmes to overcome drug addiction rather than being repeatedly imprisoned, both were intent on staying ‘clean’, but both resumed their drug habit after a period of time. In essence, what this highlighted is that prison had either failed or the effectiveness of rehabilitation was limited. This also raises the question, does rehabilitation actually work, given that in two instances where it was thought to have worked, it clearly had not.
3 A related BBC forum discussed this, among other issues raised in the documentary, and it was generally felt that rehabilitation was not as effective as intended in this particular instance as it did not offer an effective and long-term solution. People believed that more should be done in the long-term and that at the end of the day it comes down to the drug user if they will remain ‘rehabilitated’ (http://news. bbc. co. uk/1/hi/talking_point/2183699. stm). 4 Another aim of prison, deterrence seems to have no bearing on Recidivism.
One would expect that if a prison was harsh and intolerable enough the first time round an offender would look to avoid further conviction, although the Recidivism rate of 52% show that this is certainly not the case. Of those first-time offenders who do not re-offend, deterrence probably plays very little part in this, having probably wished to avoid conviction initially, let alone imprisonment, and so is unlikely to re-offend. Such people perhaps made mistakes for which they pay by imprisonment, yet they are not necessarily of a truly criminal nature and so will not re-offend.
Those of a criminal nature, on the other hand, are clearly not deterred. Prisons also aim to punish. This ties in with deterrence. High rates of Recidivism suggest that the punishment element of prison may not be harsh enough as many offenders are reconvicted. If punishments were harsh enough, not only would frequent offenders be less likely to re-offend, but first-time offending would see a decrease too. A decrease in first-time offending would result in a decrease in re-offending, as a large number of potential re-offenders will have been deterred by the threat of punishment.
An interview I conducted with WPC Emma Clarkson5 revealed that the vast majority of re-offending in Fife, and one can only assume the same applies nationwide, is drug related. This means that the effectiveness of deterrence/punishment would be limited, as someone with a drug addiction is unlikely to consider or be deterred by the threat of imprisonment when looking to feed their habit, such is the nature of drug addiction. Society looks to prison as a form of protection from offenders. The effectiveness of prisons as protection, in terms of recidivists, is questionable.
The high rates of Recidivism in Scotland would suggest that it is necessary for prisons to detain offenders for as long as possible to provide the best protection to society possible, although it may be argued that the influence and exposure of prison on an individual leads to Recidivism. Hence a balance must be found. At current some people may feel that prison is successful in protecting society, while cynics may be more sceptical, arguing that prison in actual fact lets society down by allowing criminals to re-enter society too soon and re-offend.
The view of Cesare Lombroso, again relevant, that prisons may act as a form of criminal education and have a negative effect on convicted offenders would mean protection was very limited. Whether the case or not, it is certainly true that in order to protect society properly, prisons need to break the cycle of recidivism. It is felt by some that we should look to alternatives to prison, such as the airborne initiative which was recently closed due to the decision by the Scottish Executive to stop a ? 600,000 grant which was compulsory for the initiative’s survival. The initiative aimed to rehabilitate repeat offenders aged 18-24 years of age through various challenges such as outdoor activities and developing basic problem solving life skills. 6 This initiative, although not entirely successful (many participants did not last the entire duration of the 9 week programme) had shown greater results than prison – with a far higher success rate of perhaps 5 – 25 being fully rehabilitated.
Liberal Democrats MSP Keith Raffan is one of few MSP’s who opposed the decision recently to stop funding for the scheme, as he among others felt the value of the project and the potential results outweighed the low annual running costs. 7 Drugs: It is recognised that drugs are a major cause of Recidivism. The nature of drug addiction is such that an individual will repeatedly re-offend in order to feed their habit without regard of any possible consequences. I learned from interviewing WPC Emma Clarkson that drug related crime is the most common in Fife, and that the majority of recidivists are drug addicts.
The heading, “An estimated 80% of Britain’s youth prisoners will re-offend after release, and the majority of these crimes are drug-related” from the discussion site related to the BBC documentary earlier detailed would suggest the point Emma Clarkson made is relevant to the whole of Britain, and not just here in Fife. She added that when many crimes are committed in certain local areas, usually burglaries or thefts, the culprit is often an immediate suspect because of their criminal past and the fact that they are recognised criminals.
Almost all of these individuals’ offences are drug related. Sheriff Evans of Cupar Sheriff Court revealed that the vast majority of offenders dealt with in the court on a fairly regular basis had a drug problem. He also stated that the majority of re-offenders dealt with were involved in drug related crime, further enforcing Emma Clarkson’s earlier point. Liberal Democrats MSP Ian Smith told me in a separate interview that he felt this was occurring as a result of failed rehabilitation programmes.
He feels that more needs to be done in the way of assisting these people and offering effective rehabilitation and treatment to them. He also mentioned the fact that the majority of re-offenders were young, suggesting there was perhaps a link between drug culture and the youth of today. This also includes evidence of a successful policy to address recidivism (as shall be discussed in the next chapter). Following an interview with Keith Raffan, a Liberal Democrats regional MSP for Fife, it was brought to my attention that he too felt drugs were a major problem.
He felt that prisons did not do enough to rehabilitate drug offenders, and so the cycle of recidivism was not broken. He believed alternatives to prison (such as the Airborne Initiative) were the best available solutions to dealing with drug offenders, as not only do prisons do too little to assist drug addicts with their problem, but drugs are a major problem in Scottish prisons and so are easily accessible. This would also reduce the time before these people could be reintroduced into society and would the element of stupidity in repeatedly imprisoning these people when it was clearly to no avail.
Age: As touched upon by Ian Smith, age may also have a bearing on an individual’s likelihood of becoming a recidivist or not. Statistics show that more than a quarter of those who re-offended are under the age of 218. Therefore we can assume that younger criminals are more likely to repeat crimes. Such a pattern suggests that perhaps younger offenders are more vulnerable or impressionable, and so the chances of entering a cycle of recidivism are much higher.
This may even result from such age-related factors as naivety – simply not knowing any better (perhaps a symptom of poor education too), peers – often groups of peers will pressure or encourage one another to act in a criminal manner, youth issues – such as bullying which could provoke a criminal reaction, or even boredom – as people may choose to channel their boredom in an antisocial manner. One of the main problems at present is the vast numbers of youngsters who abuse drugs, leading to crime, although the abuse is a criminal act in itself.
The Scottish Executive needs to be aware of and do more to rehabilitate/discourage younger offenders to reduce recidivism. More focus should put on younger offenders by the Scottish Executive, as they are the most likely to re-offend in later life. The knock on effect would be that once Scotland’s current youth generation become adults and parents, the problem of re-offending in this generation will have subsequently been tackled at an earlier age. Such a system could also remain in place to tackle recidivism within the ‘new’ youth generation – the children of our current youths. Environment:
Environment is without a doubt another factor in recidivist. It is to be expected that those from an environment with high rates of criminality are likely to re-offend, perhaps as a symptom rather than a result, however, of the environment. This does not mean that someone from an area with high rates of crime is necessarily a criminal or a re-offender, though. Those who leave prison to return to the same environment, perhaps renowned for high rates of delinquency, are returning to exposure to the same factors as experienced prior to conviction, and so one would expect the same result, criminal behaviour.
If these factors, perhaps pride, reputation, generally low morale standards or family background could lead to the initial crime, it is inevitable that they may lead to further crime too. In given environments, crime or low moral standards may be commonplace. These social norms may lead to the desire to cause crime in order to deal with particular problems or situations, or the failure to understand what constitutes to a crime. In some environments, deprivation is also a problem. In deprived areas, the desire for greater things or the envy of others may lead to crime.
The nature of the crimes these people may commit, such as theft, are also more detectable than tax evasion per say due to policing methods. Youths in deprived areas may also have the problem of looking for ways to address their boredom, not having luxuries the majority in Scotland take for granted – such as televisions, games consoles, the internet etc. These are outlets for many youths who are bored, but for those who do not have access to such items, boredom could well be channelled in a different way. Family Background: Family background ties in with environment.
As can be seen from www. familymatters. org. uk/cfb. html those with a family history of delinquency are more likely to commit crimes than those from a family with no history of delinquency. 9 A “broken” family, a family with a difference of circumstances such as an absent parent, is thought to have a contribution on an individual in later life. One may associate such family backgrounds with a bad environment, although families no longer comply to what was once seen as the norm with divorce and separation becoming ever more common.
Even in such cases where a family is “broken” in a bad environment, the breakdown of the family may contribute to the bad environment rather than result from it. The breakdown of family life can have consequences varying from breakdown of communication and family values to disrespect within a family. Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytical theory suggests that a good upbringing is vitally important in order for us to develop our moral code. Freud stated his belief that through parenting, a developing child internalised a moral standard to which they lived.
10 A broken family may also fail to provide the support needed when a family member faces problems. This may lead to a decreased self-esteem or the family member to look elsewhere for alternative support or solutions, possibly leading those seeking help astray. This can have consequences on a person’s lifestyle and ability to make decisions, and so leaves them vulnerable to entering a life of crime and recidivism. Gender: The relationship between gender and re-offending is strong.
44% of males at all age groups are likely to be reconvicted, while only 34% of females at all age groups are likely to be reconvicted11. Subsequently, a male is more likely to commit a crime, the variable factor appearing to simply be the difference in gender. Our gender influences the way we act and think, and perhaps it could be argued that a male has greater criminal tendencies or is potentially more likely to cause a crime than females due to gender related factors.
Psychology has identified that the human has, as do other animals, various biological urges (as suggested once-more in Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical theory). These urges also differ between genders. Therefore, it is viable to argue that the biological urges of a certain gender may result in greater tendencies to behave in a criminal manner, with the stereotypical male thought to be the “hunter/gatherer”. It is thought that anti-social behaviour may also occur as a result of failure to suppress such animalistic biological urges in some instances – the basis of Freudian criminologists’ argument12.
Peer Pressure: The pressure put on an individual either by or in order to impress peers can be at times great. It has been felt that in many instances, peer pressure has had a bearing on the delinquency of an individual. Someone who has been alienated or looks to associate with a given peer group may cause crime in order to gain the attention of and address the group. Peers may also lead one another into involvement with things such as drugs, which can potentially lead to a life of crime.