re·​cid·​i·​vism ri-ˈsi-də-ˌvi-zəm How to pronounce recidivism (audio)
: a tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior
especially : relapse into criminal behavior

Did you know?

The re- in recidivism is the same re- in relapse and return, and like those words recidivism is about going back: it’s a tendency to relapse, especially into criminal behavior. Recidivism is a 19th century French borrowing that’s ultimately from a Latin word meaning “to relapse into sin or crime.” In borrowing recidivism, English was itself engaging in a kind of recidivism: the same Latin source of recidivism had been nabbed in the 16th century to form the much less common recidivate, meaning “to fall into or exhibit recidivism.”

Examples of recidivism in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web In addition to the youth's right to an education, research has shown that education in juvenile facilities lowers recidivism. Cameron Knight, The Enquirer, 7 May 2024 That’s done through the First Step Act, a 2018 criminal justice reform bill that aims to reduce the federal prison population and reduce recidivism. Chris Morris, Fortune, 7 May 2024 The outlet heard from the BOP that sometimes sentences are shortened for good behavior or the completion of certain programs designed to address mental health, financial literacy, and other factors that might reduce recidivism. Melvin Backman, Quartz, 7 May 2024 The experience of Jankowski’s son reflects an alarming finding consistent across national and statewide studies: juvenile justice fines and fees increase recidivism rates. Claire Reid and Peter Breen, The Indianapolis Star, 23 Apr. 2024 See all Example Sentences for recidivism 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'recidivism.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from French récidivisme, from récidiver "to reappear (of a disease, tumor, etc.), do over, commit a second criminal offense" (going back to Middle French, borrowed from Medieval Latin recidīvāre "to relapse into sin or crime") + -isme -ism — more at recidivate

First Known Use

1884, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of recidivism was in 1884


Dictionary Entries Near recidivism

Cite this Entry

“Recidivism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 15 Jun. 2024.

Medical Definition


re·​cid·​i·​vism ri-ˈsid-ə-ˌviz-əm How to pronounce recidivism (audio)
: a tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior
high recidivism rates after cessation of smokingA. E. Kazdin et al.

Legal Definition


re·​cid·​i·​vism ri-ˈsi-də-ˌvi-zəm How to pronounce recidivism (audio)
: relapse into criminal behavior

More from Merriam-Webster on recidivism

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!