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Perceptions of fairness have a bearing on rates of re-offending – study

27 May 2020 / justice Print

Perceptions of fairness have bearing on re-offending rate

A new study shows that suspended sentences or community service can be more effective in reducing recidivism than short terms of imprisonment.

Planned and structured early release, including parole, may also drive down recidivism, the research shows.

And the perception of procedural unfairness can lead to alienation, resistance and non-compliance, whereas a belief that one has been treated fairly may reduce the likelihood of future offending. 

The Department of Justice and Equality today launched the findings from an international evidence review on recidivism and policy responses.

The report, which was prepared by Professor Ian O’Donnell from the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice, at UCD School of Law, is the third in a series of pieces of research that have been commissioned by the Department’s research and data analytics unit and builds on the department’s commitment to support the development of more evidence-informed policy making.


Recidivism refers to relapse of criminal behaviour, which can include a range of outcomes, including rearrests, reconviction, and reimprisonment.

The report identifies a number of risk factors for increased recidivism include:

  • young age at first offence,
  • previous convictions,
  • unemployment and substance abuse.

It also suggests that for those involved in substance misuse, public health-based harm-minimisation approaches appear to hold promise

According to the most recent figures from the CSO, 45.8% of prisoners released in 2012 reoffended within three years of their release, while 43.3% of offenders managed by the Probation Service reoffended within three years (based on 2013 cohort).

With the aim of assisting policy formation in the department, the review sought to address a range of questions relating to:

  • factors underpinning recidivist and prolific offending behaviour,
  • public policy interventions that tackle recidivism and prolific offending,
  • effectiveness of these interventions and likelihood of successful transplantation to an Irish context.

The study shows a significant treatment effect associated with cognitive behavioural interventions delivered both in community and custodial settings. 

Valuable resource

The review will constitute a valuable resource for researchers and act as a springboard for future empirical research on best practice in this area and provide a body of evidence essential to inform future policy discussions and development, the department says.

Secretary General Aidan O’Driscoll (small picture) said: “As this report points out, knowing the characteristics of recidivism prone individuals or situations will allow interventions to be targeted with greater precision and confidence. This is not only to the advantage of the individuals concerned and their families, but also to the wider community.”


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