3.1 Recidivism is where someone who has received some form of criminal justice sanction (such as a community sentence or a fine) and goes on to commit another offence. Therefore determining recidivism is important as it illustrates the effectiveness of the criminal justice system on the punishment and rehabilitation of offenders. Reconviction rates are a proxy measure for recidivism, as not all offences recorded by the police will necessarily result in a conviction in court (see Section 11.22).
3.2 Scotland's criminal justice system has many different possible outcomes and interventions at each stage of the offender's journey. This system is summarised in the Audit Scotland report (An Overview of Scotland's criminal justice system) and is shown in Chart 2. Not all offences reported to the police result in a conviction, and reoffending (as measured at the start of the process) is not the same thing as reconviction (produced right at the end of the criminal justice process). The latter can be affected by many different variables that are not necessarily related to the incidence of crime (see National Audit Office 2012 Report Comparing International Criminal Justice Systems).
3.3 For the majority of the analyses in this bulletin, we measure the reconvictions of a cohort of offenders within a follow-up period of one year after a conviction. A cohort is defined as all the offenders that have either estimated to have been released from a custodial sentence, or given a non-custodial sentence, in a specified financial year. For example, the 2011-12 cohort is the group of offenders with which were released from a custodial sentence, or were given a non-custodial sentence, between the 1st April 2011 and the 31st March 2012 (See Section 11.2 and Section 11.4.6 for definitions and more details).
3.4 The "index conviction" is the reference conviction which is determined by either: (a) the estimated release date for a custodial sentence imposed for the conviction, or (b) the sentence date for non-custodial sentences imposed for the conviction. Whichever conviction had the earliest of these dates in a given financial year is defined as the index conviction. The crime which resulted in the index conviction is the "index crime", and the sentence given for the index conviction is the "index disposal". (See Section 11.2 and Section 11.4.6 for definitions and more details).
3.5 The reconviction rate is presented here as the percentage of offenders with index convictions in the cohort who were reconvicted one or more times within a specified follow up period from the date of the index conviction. For most analyses in this bulletin the follow-up period is one year, except for Table 11 where a two year follow up period is presented. For example, the 2011-12 reconviction rate is 29.2 per cent (Table 1), and this means that just over a quarter of offenders were reconvicted in the year following their non-custodial conviction or release from a custodial sentence in 2011-12. The definitions in Section 11.2.1 provide more details about the terminology used in this publication.
3.6 This bulletin provides more detailed analysis of reconvictions by also reporting the complementary measure of average number of reconvictions per offender. The reconviction rate, which is the percentage of offenders in a cohort who receive a reconviction, provides an indication of progress in tackling overall offender recidivism. However, the reconviction rate may not be sensitive enough to detect individual-level progress as a result of interventions and programmes in the criminal justice system. Such programmes may have been successful in reducing the number of reconvictions, but not complete desistance from crime, by an offender.
3.7 The average number of reconvictions per offender is a measure of the number of times that offenders in a cohort are reconvicted within the follow-up period. It is calculated as the total number of reconviction events within the specified follow up period of all the offenders in the cohort, divided by the total number of offenders in the cohort. For example, the average number of reconvictions per offender in one year for the 2011-12 cohort is 0.53 (Table 1), which means that, on average, offenders have about half a reconviction in a one year follow up period.
3.8 In this bulletin we also measure the proportion of persons who receive a non-court disposal and who go on to receive another non-court disposal within a year. The cohort for non-court convictions is defined as the group of persons who receive a non-court disposal from the police or Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), such as a fine or caution, in a given financial year.
(Source: Audit Scotland 2012 An overview of Scotland's criminal justice system)
Email: Andrew Morgan