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.”

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web The new law also establishes the Legislative Recidivism Reduction Task Force, a 19-member panel tasked with analyzing the drivers of Arkansas' high recidivism rates among other duties. Will Langhorne, Arkansas Online, 14 May 2023 Mobley said recidivism rates for all formerly incarcerated people are high due to sociological factors, such as strict laws and policies for those on parole and probation, a lack of resources for those leaving prison and the stigma of having been incarcerated. Alex Riggins, San Diego Union-Tribune, 2 May 2023 But Lennon does not take into account the many instances in which Smith’s humanity was prioritized, championed, and celebrated, and that the root of his inevitable (and tragic) recidivism was his rage toward and hatred of women, never adequately dealt with both inside and outside of prison. John J. Lennon, The New York Review of Books, 9 Mar. 2023 Family violence is often well hidden, so conviction and recidivism data doesn’t necessarily provide a good insight either. Kwame Anthony Appiah, New York Times, 1 Mar. 2023 Montoya noted that prisoners employed by ACI were not found to have significantly lower recidivism rates than incarcerated people who were not part of the program. Joseph Darius Jaafari, The Arizona Republic, 11 Aug. 2022 The bill was one of the recommendations of the Governor’s Study Group in Criminal Justice Policy, which reported that reducing recidivism was the long-term solution to Alabama’s problem of overcrowded and understaffed prisons. Mike Cason |, al, 4 Apr. 2023 Numbers show these programs actually work Jabro said treatment courts work at reducing recidivism, improving quality of life for the person involved, as well as their families and communities, if following best practices. Sarah Lapidus, The Arizona Republic, 11 Apr. 2023 Decades of research by various academics shows that helping people maintain family ties during incarceration can reduce recidivism. Keri Blakinger, Los Angeles Times, 5 Apr. 2023 See More

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 30 May. 2023.

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
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