Criminal Sanctions and Recidivism
In this study, reconviction is investigated for all persons judicially convicted in Germany. Information is collected on the type of offense, the type and amount of sanction, possible previous convictions, the region in which the offense took place, and socio-demographic characteristics of the offender such as age and gender. Using this data, it is possible, for example, to determine how often relapses occur in the case of violent or sexual offenses. Moreover, the results allow for frequently expressed criminal policy views on different recidivism rates for different types of sanctions to be better verified. It should be noted, however, that initially only the frequency of relapse can be determined, no causal relationships can be made. Fines are generally imposed by the courts for less serious offenses and for offenders with more favorable ‘social forecasts’; those sentenced to prison are therefore more likely to display a kind of ‘negative selection’, meaning that their more frequent reconviction is not surprising. What is, however, surprising, is that relapses occur relatively rarely. If one controls for this selection effect, then no difference in the relapse risk according to types of sanction can be determined.
In the forth wave, persons who were either given a non-custodial sanction in 2004, 2007, 2010, or 2013 or were released from prison in one of these years were investigated within a three-year or twelve-year period to see whether they were convicted again.
The following points are some of the results of the study thus far:
- Slightly more than a third of those sentenced or released from prison were reconvicted within three years.
- A reconviction did not frequently lead to reimprisonment, but mostly to milder sanctions.
- Persons who are released from prison are most likely to relapse, but only a quarter of those initially sentenced to imprisonment return to prison within three years.
- The reconviction rates of those sentenced to probation are significantly lower than the reconviction rates of those who have been released from prison.
- Recidivism varies greatly depending on age and gender. Adolescents have the highest relapse rate (40%), those aged over 60 the lowest (15%). Women are much less likely to relapse than men.
- The more offenses in the past, the higher the risk of relapse.
- General recidivism – regardless of the offense – differs greatly for different offenses. The lowest recidivism rate (less than 20%) is for those initially convicted of homicide. Of the offenders who were initially convicted of robbery or aggravated theft, about 50% relapsed.
- Offense-specific reconviction (reconvictions for an act of the same offense) are much less common than general relapses. About 2% of violent sexual offenders relapsed with another violent sexual offense within three years, 3,2% within six years, 3,6% within nine years, and 3,7% within twelve years.
The project is currently being supplemented by a fifth wave funded by the DFG. The results of the study will be published in 2024.