Some of the measures which may be suggested for suppressing recidivism are as follows:—
1. The modem correctional methods of treatment of offenders essentially involve classification of criminals into different categories so that they can be adequately punished or sent to an appropriate institution. From this point of view of possibility of offenders turning into recidivists, they may be classified into following categories:—
(i) Innocent convicts;
(ii) Insane criminals;
(iii) Criminals by accident;
(iv) Occasional criminals;
(v) Habitual offenders;
(vi) White collar criminals;
(vii) Political offenders.
This classification rests on the responsibility of the criminal to his act. For example innocent convicts are those who are convicted and imprisoned due to erroneous or misguided judgment of the law court. They are therefore, innocent persons who have been wrongly implicated, sentenced and brought to prison or a similar institution. Obviously, such persons should be dealt with leniently because by nature they prefer to avoid the company of recidivists and hardened criminals.
The insane criminals, on the other hand, commit crime due to certain mental disorder and are considered irresponsible to their crime. They are therefore, suited to clinical methods of treatment rather than penal servitude. Normally such criminals are not recidivists.
The criminals by accident are also called “situational criminals”. They are not habitual or professional offenders but lend into criminality per chance. Their crime is never premeditated but is the result of momentary impulsiveness or soothing opportunity in which the offender finds himself placed incidentally. This is often true with many of the sex offenders. There are no recidivistic trends among such criminals.
The crimes committed by occasional criminals are often well planned and pre-meditated but these criminals do not accept criminality as a profession. The treatment of such occasional offenders should depend on their psychological and psychiatric condition. These offenders are most likely to turn recidivists if not properly handled. They should therefore, be treated cautiously.
A habitual offender or a person habitually addicted to crime is one who is a criminal by habit or by disposition formed by repetition of crimes. These are the persons who have embraced criminality as a mode of life and commit crime with boldness and courage. Reformative measures of treatment completely fail in case of such offenders. Perhaps, imprisonment is the only alternative to prevent habitual offenders from repeating crime.
There is yet another category of criminals known as white collar criminals. They are persons of high social status who commit crime in course of their legitimate business. These criminals are seldom detected or if detected, hardly punished. Moreover, there is no social condemnation for such white collar criminals.
It is for this reason that there has been an enormous rise in white collar crime in recent decades. The remedy suggested for repressing white collar criminality is to award severe punishment to white collar criminals through stringent laws.
It must be stated that the aforesaid classification of criminals holds good to both, male as well as the female offenders. It is, however, a different matter that women generally commit offences which by their very nature, are hard to detect and even if detected, are rarely reported or prosecuted. That apart, despite equality of men and women before law, the fact remains that courts treat women more leniently than men in matters of sentencing.
2. Experience has shown that individualised methods of treatment serve no useful purpose in case of recidivists. At the same time, deterrent punitive measures have also proved equally ineffective in their case. It is therefore, desired that an integrated programme of legal sentence and treatment be improvised in the penal system for the rehabilitation of recidivists.
It is for this reason that the power of the Judge to keep a recidivist under detention for an extra-period than the term of his sentence prescribed for that particular offence, has been withdrawn in Britain.
3. Recidivists should be kept in prisons equipped with maximum security arrangements. They should be under constant surveillance so that society is fully protected against these miscreants.
4. Adequate after-care treatment at the time of inmate’s release from prison or a correctional institution may prepare him for an upright living in society, shedding aside his inferiority complex. This would inculcate hope, self-confidence and self-respect in the offender which would enable him to adjust himself to the conditions of normal life in society.
It is also realised that mere treatment in penal institutions does not help in the ultimate rehabilitation of habitual offenders as it cannot bridge the gap between the individual experience and the stigma society attaches to the recidivists.
It has therefore, been rightly said that the punishment for crime never ends with the completion of the prison-term but it rather continues as a life-long record and sometimes it becomes difficult for the offender to return to the society as a decent law-abiding citizen despite his sincere and genuine desire to live honestly.
The discharged prisoners are confronted with multifarious problems such as stagmatisation, social neglect, and financial handicaps and so on. Therefore, it is of vital importance to develop after-care services as an essential requisite in the correctional field. This can help in arresting recidivism in two ways, namely, (1) by bringing about social rehabilitation of the offender, and (2) extending vocational rehabilitative services.
There is need for effective control, supervision and assistance of the offenders in the community. Since criminal is the product of the community, it is for the community to devise ways and means to tackle this problem. Perhaps, setting up of People’s Committees to tackle the problem of recidivism right from the time of apprehension of an offender to the final disposal of his case, may help in preventing recidivism to a considerable extent.
5. Dr. Walter Reckless has suggested that there are two major factors which contribute to recidivism. They are psychological aspects and social pressures. According to him, psychological desires or propensities, such as restlessness and aggression might be internal elements which drive a person towards recidivism.
Further, the external factors which may push a person towards criminality and repetition of crime could be social pressures such as poverty, family conflicts, neglect, lack of opportunities etc. Studies have shown that recidivists generally lack in four elements which are essential attributes of a law-abiding citizen. They are:—
(i) Lack of attachment to family and the community;
(ii) Want of sense of responsibility and commitments;
(iii) Disregard for morality and social values; and
(iv) Absence of beliefs that forbid delinquency. If all these elements are inherent in a criminal, he is less likely to become a recidivist.
Some recidivists chose criminality because it brings them recognition and position and this is often a motivation for them to indulge in crimes. The notorious sandalwood smuggler Veerappan who was operating in dense forests bordering Kerala and Tamil Nadu and committed as many as 138 murders and killed nearly 2000 elephants during the past twenty years is an illustration on the point.
Roshia Bob (1989) claims that the factors accountable for recidivistic tendency in criminals may be countered by inculcating in them the elements of affection, status, autonomy security and self-consciousness which may dissuade them from committing crimes.
6. Last but not the least, unduly lengthy procedure of criminal trial should be suitably amended to secure summary conviction of recidivists and hardened offenders. Avoiding delays in criminal trials is all the more necessary to ensure that the gravity of the offence is not washed off by long delays.
Speedy trials and punishment can further be effective in putting a check on the offender reaping undue benefit of his criminal act. His immediate conviction after the incidence of crime shall act as a sufficient deterrent to dissuade him from repeating crime.
It must be stated that twenty-first century materialism has contributed substantially to the growing incidence of recidivism. The concepts of morality, mutual respect, fear, love and faith have lost their importance in modern times. Consequently, humanity and human values have lost their credence. Under the circumstances, resort to crime is considered as an easy mode of earning money and satisfying egoistic needs of life.
The need of the time therefore, demands that law courts should take notice of this psychology working behind the modem “criminal” and award punishment which may suit the individual offender, the society as also the ends of criminal justice. Punishment as a form of incapacitation seems inevitable in case of recidivists but it should not be unduly harsh, barbarous or cruel in nature, else it would have an adverse effect on the offender.
It is true that for centuries it was believed that crime could be effectively controlled by inflicting severe punishment or penalties on the offenders, particularly the recidivists, so that they would be made to realise their guilt, repent and pay for their crime and at the same time could be restrained from repeating the crime in future.
In this manner, the society could be protected from the onslaught of criminals by a rigorous method of punishment and intimidation. However, with new developments in the field of psychology, sociology and criminal science, the criminologists have realised the futility of this conventional approach to crime and criminals.
Therefore, the modem trend is therefore, to treat crime as a social and individual phenomenon and prevent its recurrence or repetition by adopting an attitude conducive to the re-socialisation and reformation of the criminal within the community itself through an intensive treatment and after-care programme.