Press release: Once a criminal, always a criminal?

Nr. 33/2014 - 21.02.2014

Scientists at Göttingen University examine the recidivism rate of criminal offenders

(pug) Are criminal sanctions useless or how do they prevent perpetrators from committing further crimes? Scientists at the University of Göttingen and the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law in Freiburg were commissioned by the German Federal Ministry of Justice to examine this question. They searched the entries in the Federal Central Criminal Register in Germany to find out whether ex-convicts stayed "legal" after undergoing criminal punishment or their release from prison, in other words if they relapsed back into criminals. The findings: For most of them, their one conviction remained a singular event. Only 34 percent, i.e. around one in three of the offenders who were sentenced or released from prison, committed a second offense.

The researchers examined nearly one million persons registered in 2007 in the German Federal Central Criminal Register as to whether and how these persons became repeat offenders within the subsequent three years. Moreover, the data were merged with an earlier study from the years 2004 to 2007. "The general recidivism rate analysed over the six-year observation period markedly increased to 44 percent, although more than 50 percent remained non-offenders,“ says Professor Jörg-Martin Jehle from Göttingen University's Institute of Criminal Law and Justice. "As expected, the risk of recidivism is the highest among adolescents and lower in women than in men. The more extensive the prior criminal record, the more the recidivism rate increases. The convicts released from prison exhibit a higher risk for recidivism than those receiving milder punishments, such as fines or youth court sanctions.“

If one classifies the number of reconvictions according to the type of crime, there is a clear difference between the different offence groups. "After three years, the traffic offenders – apart from those driving without a license – and the ones sentenced for homicide had the lowest recidivism rates at around 20 percent, whereas 50 percent of the criminals who had committed robbery and more serious forms of theft became repeat offenders“, states Prof. Jehle. After six years, 3 percent of violent criminals and sex offenders were sentenced for a repeat violent or sex crime and 12 percent for any other type of crime of a violent and/or sexual nature. For more detailed information on the study, go to

Original publication: Jörg-Martin Jehle et al. Legalbewährung nach strafrechtlichen Sanktionen – Eine bundesweite Rückfalluntersuchung 2007 bis 2010 und 2004 bis 2010. Federal Ministry of Justice, Berlin 2013.

Contact address:
Prof. Dr. Jörg-Martin Jehle
Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
Faculty of Law – Institute of Criminal Law and Justice
Department of Criminology, Juvenile Delinquency and Penal Systems
Platz der Göttinger Sieben 6, 37073 Göttingen
Phone +49 (0)551 39-4866