Recidivism is a word derived from a Latin word recidere, which means fallback. There are many elements of recidivism for instance it denotes the element of re-arraignment in court where a person had initially committed an offence and is brought to court having committed a similar or different offence. There is also an element of re-conviction where sentence is passed on person who has previously been convicted of an offence. The last element of recidivism is re-incarceration, different penal systems have different punishments and incapacitation is one of them and in that regard a person is considered a recidivist where he or she is imprisoned several times whether after committing similar offences or different offences. Recidivism can also be used to explain the situation where a person who is an object of punishment commits a crime again.

Some scholars refer to recidivism as re-offending, this is a departure from the three elements stated above because an ex-convict can commit a crime without being detected by the authorities and thus there will be no re-arraignment, re-conviction or re-incarceration if the crime is not detected. In most cases the crimes committed by ex-offenders are hardly detected.

Research has shown that several factors lead to recidivism either when in prison or after release from prison. The United Nations has made recommendations that can lead to the reduction of recidivism. The UN has recommended that countries should set-up social-integration to prevent individuals from re-offending. Among the programs recommended is ensuring that offenders get basic skills and governments focus on community based schemes.

Over the last 30 years the rate of recidivism has been increasing at an alarming rate all over the world. The rate of reconviction in the USA is over 50% , 64% in Canada and 45% in Denmark. In Kenya the rate of recidivism is believed to be around 75% where an ex-convict is likely to commit an offence after release. The rate of going back to prison stands at 50%. In most countries over the world the rate of recidivism is above 50%. This clearly shows that the penal system is not achieving the purpose of reformation of offenders.

Generally recidivism has negative effects to the community. For instance the crimes by recidivists are generally committed against the community especially property crimes. The Kenyan government also has to spent large amounts of money in the arrest, conviction and incapacitation of the offenders. The government spends a lot of money in the maintenance of the recidivists. This is money that would have been used on development projects.

I will analyze causes of recidivism among male and female adult offenders and also consider appropriate mechanisms that can be put in place to curb recidivism so as to ensure that the rate of recidivism is significantly reduced and the government saves a lot of money that it spends on maintaining offenders. The research will also consider if punishments carried out by penal institution are suitable for curbing recidivism among offenders in Kenya.

The penal system in Kenya is not working effectively in combating recidivism because there is high rate of re-offending. Offenders serve their sentences and leave prison unchanged and commit more crimes which are detrimental to the society as a whole. With the high rate of recidivism a lot of money is spent in maintaining the offenders. The research will therefore consider the legal framework and the policies in place and if they are effective in reducing or eliminating recidivism in the society as a whole. The research will also analyze retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation and the role they play in curbing recidivism.

The research is important because it will help generate policies and formulate laws that are geared towards combating recidivism and also help address the causes of recidivism and provide solutions.

The study presumes that there is recidivism among offenders and that effective rehabilitation mechanism including imparting skills on recidivists will largely curb recidivism.

The research will seek to answer the following questions-
1. What are the causes of recidivism among offenders in Kenya?
2. Is the Kenyan penal system well equipped to curb recidivism?
3. What laws and policies are in place to reduce the rate of recidivism?
4. Are the laws in place adequate in curbing recidivism?
1. To discuss causes of recidivism among offenders in Kenya
2. To discuss defects in the penal system that lead to recidivism
3. To discuss the role of law and the government in ensuring there is no recidivism among offenders
4. To conduct a research that will seek to provide suggestions on how the penal institutions will put in place measures to ensure that punishment muted is aimed at helping the offender rather than hardening them

The social learning theory propounded by Albert Bandura plays a significant role in the study of recidivism. According to Bandura people learn from each other through observation and imitation and it encompasses attention and motivation. Through continued interaction they are likely to commit crimes. This can be used to explain why ex-offenders who are in a group of people who are likely to commit crimes will recidivate. Bandura argued that if people are exposed to certain conduct such as violence, they will legitimize that conduct and will deem it approved by the society; the social learning theory encompasses environmental factors, cognitive theories and behaviorist theory. If a certain person engages in a criminal activity and the results are positive then another person is likely to be influenced to try that deviant conduct. The theory can also be used to explain why there are high rates of recidivism in ex-offenders in that a person expects positive results in future conduct after experiencing a positive outcome in the past behavior. There is also the element of reinforcement where the society or the group the person associates with approve the conduct and encourage the person to commit crime.

Closely related to the social learning theory is the differential association theory propounded Edwin Sutherland. He stated that individuals learn criminal behavior through association with others and that criminal conduct is considered normal. Criminal behavior is learned from criminals or people who approve the conduct.

Sutherland’s theory was later modified by Akers who propounded the differential reinforcement theory. The main highlight of the theory is that the application of rewards and punishments to the learning process establishes our definition of behavior. If the benefits of a crime outweigh the negative effects then the person is likely to commit the crime again even after punishment. For instance if a person operates a transport business without a license and the fine for the offence as provided for by the law is too lenient the person will continue to operate without a license as long as the profits outweigh the fine.

The strain theories are also of essence in the study and analysis of recidivism. Merton in his anomie theory considered that according to the society, goals can be achieved through education and employment and since people do not have equal opportunities some people resort to crime as a means of achieving the goals. Most people commit crimes and recidivate as a result of lack of basic education which in turn leads to lack of better job opportunities and thus crime becomes the only option. There is also the general strain theory where it stated that negative events lead to someone committing a crime, the negative events may be emotional imbalance or even anger. Crimes are generally brought about by lower-class status e.g. poverty.

I will also consider the utilitarian theory which advocates for rehabilitation of offenders to prevent further crime. The theory also advocates for happiness of the greatest number in the society and since crime is inconsistent with happiness of the greatest number it should be minimized by punishing the specific offenders to deter them.

Questionnaires and interviews will be used to gather information from people living in areas where the rate of crime is high, prisoners who are recidivists will also be interviewed. The interviews used will be structured interviews. Internet sources will also be used especially to search for the laws relating to reduction of recidivism, the policies and the guidelines. Secondary sources like books will also be considered to analyse the role of prisons in reducing recidivism and their achievements in curbing the menace.

There are no records kept by Kenyan authorities on the rate of recidivism and thus a person has to interview ex-convicts who are recidivist in order to obtain data. Furthermore not much has been written on recidivism in Kenya.

Maltz considered recidivism as “the reversion of an individual to criminal behavior after he or she has been convicted of a prior offence, sentenced and corrected”. Maltz also defined recidivism as the time from the release event to the failure event, what Maltz meant was the time when a person is released from prison and a time he commits another offence.

Cusson and Pinsonneault did a research in Canada involving 17 ex-robbers who had not committed any offence after release, a majority of the ex-robbers said they did not re-offend due to the shock and experiences they underwent while committing the robbery e.g. the shooting. It was further discovered accumulation of punishment wears down the criminal drive. The authors also considered why ex-convicts backslide and came to a conclusion that factors such as money problems, loss of jobs and lack of regulation of expenditure contributed to recidivism.

Most people who are incarcerated come from the community and will ultimately return to the community. In this regard there is need to ensure they are reformed and willing to live a law-abiding life. According to Cullen and Gendreau prisons system were intended to release criminals into the society as law abiding citizens.

According to research conducted by Bureau of Justice Statistics of USA, it examined 404,638 prisoners released from 30 states for five years and it was discovered that 76% were re-arrested. The rate of recidivism was considered to be around 65% in the USA while a research conducted in Uruguay by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights found the rate to be at 60%. A research conducted in Israel to find out the effect of different sentences on recidivism indicated that the rate of recidivism in offenders on probation was 55.7% while those in prison the rate was 60%.

A research conducted in Mauritius showed that 85% of detainees incarcerated in 2009 were people who had been incarcerated for a 2nd to 5th time.

According to Farrington and Nutall, prisoners who left overcrowded prisons were likely to reoffend because they spend time in cells with other prisoners and were likely to be influenced. Rehabilitation was difficult in overcrowded prisons and while in prison the criminal become aggressive and is likely to commit more crimes.

Walker and Farrington after conducting a research on the effect of the length of a sentence on recidivism came to a conclusion that the lengths of a sentence made little difference to the rates of re-offending among habitual offenders as 85% of them commit further crimes.

The rate of recidivism in Kenya is believed to be around 50%. This is clear that the penal system is not achieving the purpose of curbing crime among ex-convicts. Another research conducted in Kenya indicated that without reentry programs in the country, released citizens have a 75% chance of committing another crime. Furthermore the released citizens have a 50% chance of returning to prison.

Chapter 1- Research proposal
This chapter is basically the research proposal.

Chapter 2- Causes of recidivism in Kenya
The chapter will specifically focus on what causes recidivism among offenders in Kenya and compare the findings on the causes of recidivism in other jurisdictions.

Chapter 3- The penal system in Kenya and its role towards curbing recidivism
This chapter will focus on the effect of different punishments on recidivism and the legal framework and policies in place to curb recidivism. The chapter will also consider the mechanisms the government has put in place to ensure re-entry of offenders in the society.

Chapter 4-Conclusions and Recommendations
Recommendations will be made that can be adopted or incorporated in law to reduce recidivism in Kenya.


1. Recidivism study proposal, Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation
2. UNDOC Introductory Handbook on the Prevention of Recidivism and Social Reintegration of Offenders
3. Bureau of Justice Statistics US
4. Crossroad Bible Institute Report
5. Maltz, Recidivism, Academic Press, New York
6. Delinquency, The Decision to Give up crime
7. The pains of imprisonment, The Society of Captives, Princeton University Press Journal 1958, painful conditions of prisoners