Factors Contributing to Recidivism. Prison Inmates at Hawassa Correctional Center, Southern Ethiopia

Thesis (M.A.), 2022

98 Pages, Grade: 1









1.1 Background of the Study
1.2 Statement of the Problem
1.3 Objectives of the Study
1.3.1 General Objective
1.3.2 Specific Objectives
1.4 Significance of the Study
1.5 Scope of the Study
1.6 Limitations of the Study
1.7 Challenges in Conducting the Study
1.8 Organization of the Paper

2.1 Basic Concepts
2.1.1 Correctional Institution
2.1.2 Prison
2.1.3 Recidivism
2.2 Empirical Findings on Factors Contributing to Recidivism
2.2.1 Individual or Personal Level Factors
2.2.2 Institutional Factors
2.2.3 Socio-Economic Factors
2.3 Recidivism, Legal Frameworks and Prison Conditions of Ethiopia
2.3.1 Legal Frameworks and Prison Conditions of Ethiopia
2.3.2 Factors Contributing to Recidivism in Ethiopia
2.4 Theoretical Framework
2.4.1 Differential Association Theory of Edwin Sutherland
2.4.2 Labeling Theory
2.4.3 Strain Theories
2.4.4 Subculture Theory
2.5 Summary of the Empirical and Theoretical Literature
2.6 Conceptual Framework

3.1 Description of the Study Area
3.2 Research Design
3.3 Research Approach
3.4 Sources of Data
3.5 Methods of Data Collection
3.5.1 Survey Method
3.5.2 Key Informant Interview (KII)
3.5.3 Individual Interviews
3.5.4 Case Study
3.6 Procedures of Data Collection
3.7 Method of Data Analysis
3.8 Methodological Triangulation
3.9 Validity and Reliability
3.10 Ethical Considerations

4.1 Background Information of the Respondents and Informants
4.2 Personal Factors
4.3 Socio-economic Factors
4.4 Institutional Factors
4.5 Discussion
4.5.1 Personal Factors that Contribute to Recidivism
4.5.2 Socio-economic Factors that Contribute to Recidivism
4.5.3 Institutional Factors that Contribute to Recidivism

5.1 Summary of Findings
5.2 Conclusion
5.3 Recommendations



Appendix I: Instruments

Appendix II: Amharic Version of the Instruments

Appendix III: Background of the Informants


I dedicate this thesis to my parents (my father Tsegaye and my mother Blaynesh) for their constant support.


First, I would like to give praises and thanks to the Almighty God who has been my constant guide and the one whom I call upon every time I sit down to write.

I would like to thank my thesis advisor Fitsum Meseret (Assistant Professor) for his effort, time, motivation, and scholarly guidance from the beginning of the research proposal to the completion of the thesis. Truly, I learned a lot about research from the insightful comments and critics he made available and the experiences he shared.

My special thanks go to my families, who have devoted their life to upbringing me and to make me who I am now. I would also like to thank my beloved brothers and sister and all of my friends who helped me in thought and moral support in the course of conducting this study.

I am very grateful to the individuals who are actively helped me in making arrangements and in gathering data in Hawassa correctional center. Without them, I might never have been able to collect enough data to make the study viable.

Finally, I am also grateful to the study participants who gave me their time and stories; without their willingness to participate in this study I would not have been able to complete this work.


Table 3.1: Variables and their levels of measurements

Table 3.2: Methodological triangulation

Table 1: Age, sex, educational level, marital status and religious affiliation of respondents

Table 2: Current crime committed by the recidivists and number of times of reoffending

Table 3: Cross-tabulation of the number of times of reoffending and age of the recidivists

Table 4: The number of times of reoffending and respondent’s marital status

Table 5: The number of times of reoffending and respondent’s educational level

Table 6: Lack of emotional and material support from family upon release and its contribution to recidivistic behavior

Table 7: Contribution of negative community attitude to recidivistic behaviour

Table 8: Contribution of peer pressure to reoffending

Table 9: The influence of unemployment on recidivistic behavior

Table 10: Contribution of shortage of income source to reoffending

Table 11: Treatment of offenders by the prison staff in Hawassa correctional center

Table 12: The condition of overcrowding in Hawassa correctional center

Table 13: Lack of support upon offender’s release at Hawassa correctional center


Figure 2.1: Conceptual framework


Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


Nowadays, the issue of crime in general and recidivistic behavior in particular, has become a great problem in Ethiopia. Every crime has social and economic costs for both society and the individuals, but most importantly recidivism creates fear and insecurity among the society along with continuous loss of property and life, plus it escalates expenditures on law enforcement and criminal justice. However, recidivism and its factors are not adequately understood in Ethiopia. Hence, this study tried to examine the factors that contribute to recidivism, with particular emphasis on prison inmates at Hawassa correctional center. A mixed research approach and cross-sectional study design were employed. The quantitative data was collected from all recidivists (80) selected through comprehensive sampling. On the other hand, qualitative data was gathered from seventy purposively selected participants using key informant interviews, semi-structured interviews, and case studies. The quantitative data were analyzed using both descriptive and inferential statistical techniques while the qualitative data were analyzed using thematic analysis. The study results showed that recidivism is emanating from; personal factors which comprise age, sex, educational background, alcohol and drug use; socio­economic factors which include lack of family support, peer pressure, negative community attitude, unemployment, income shortage, and homelessness as well as institutional factors which encompass mistreatment by prison staff, ineffective services, overcrowding, lack of inmate classification system, inmates subculture and lack of assistance upon release. Based on the findings, the researcher recommends that efforts to incorporate the issue of recidivism and social reintegration of offenders in current criminal policy, the prison management should introduce offender oriented treatment programs and work with community groups, faith-based institutions, and volunteer individuals and organizations to assist released prisoners in creating opportunities for them.

Key words: Prison, Recidivism, Rehabilitation, Reoffending, Socio-economic


1.1 Background of the Study

Every country has a segment of individuals who act illegally, challenging the law and disregarding other people’s rights and needs. However, not all individuals commit crimes with the same frequency; most of them get involved only in a one-off criminal occasion and then once again they become contributing members of society and avoid criminal activity. On the other hand, others find themselves again in criminal activities and finally in prison. Those continuing offenders are defined as recidivists. Therefore, recidivism in its general sense refers to those activities and behaviors, which are being against the law and are enacted by an already convicted offender (Zara and Farrington 2016). The concept of recidivism has, over time, been defined in different terms. It encompasses re-arrest, re-conviction, and re-incarceration among others (Oruta 2016). In broad terminologies, recidivism means relapse into a criminal lifestyle or activities by an offender who had once or more times been processed through the penal system (Mckean and Ransford 2004).

Globally, recidivism is one of the most essential concepts in the criminal justice system and it is a major problem faced by all countries (Forkuor 2017; Akporaro 2019). Despite various intervention strategies, the rate of recidivism has increased across all nations in the world along with its negative consequences on individuals, as well as on the social and economic life of the community (Akporaro 2019). Moreover, recidivism has become a major social problem by affecting governments, multinationals, and humanitarian organizations (Simasiku 2018). United States of America (USA) as the country with the worst crime rate in the world (Atieno 2017), in the same way, it has the highest recidivism rate in the world with over 76.6% of released prisoners reoffending and returning to prison (Flores 2018). On the contrary, Scandinavian countries are frequently considered as models of successful incarceration and rehabilitation practices, particularly, Norway has one of the lowest recidivism rates (20%) in the world (Deady 2014).

In Africa, the increasing rate of crime and incarceration has been consistent with the pattern and trends in all parts of the world. Recidivism is also a common phenomenon in African countries (Oruta, 2016). South Africa has the highest recidivism rate (74%) followed by Kenya (47 %), and Tanzania (36 %) in the continent (Wambugu 2014; Khamba 2017).

Similar to other countries Ethiopia is not free from the problem of crime and recidivism. Various research findings demonstrated that nowadays the problem of crime is found in every part of the country predominantly in urban areas like Addis Ababa, Bahir Dar, Adama, Hawassa, and Sodo because of social and economic problems (rapid population growth, poverty, unemployment, rural-urban migration, ghettos way of life and the like) [(Meti 2016; Getahun 2017; Fereje 2017; Ephrem 2018; Omod 2019; Nigatu et al. 2019)]. Moreover, according to the World prison brief report (2018), trends in prison population rates have increased over the last 20 years at an alarming rate. It was 91, 96, 136, and 129 per 100,000 in 2002, 2005, 2011, and 2015 respectively; making Ethiopia one of the top listed among eastern African countries.

However, it is difficult to show the exact rate or condition of recidivism in a national context due to the paucity of comprehensive studies done so far in Ethiopia. But, very recently the issue of recidivism has been observed by researchers like Goche and Hayelom (2018) and Eskalehu (2019). Goche and Hayelom (2018) found that many released prisoners were re-offending and return to prison in North East Ethiopian correctional centers. Similarly, Eskalehu's (2019) study shows that recidivism has become a central issue in all prisons of the Amhara region, particularly; the problem is highly intensified in prisons which are found in main cities like Bahir Dar, Gondar, and Dessie.

In fact, the main purpose of rehabilitation or prison services is to reform the offender’s behavior and prevent them from committing a further crime and rejoin them to society as useful and law­abiding members of the society. However, studies like Goche and Hayelom (2018), and Eskalehu (2019) showed that recidivism has become a serious social problem in Ethiopia. Therefore, it needs a detailed understanding particularly about how and what factors contribute to recidivism? Hence, to address such questions the current study attempts to examine the issue of recidivism in Hawassa correctional center, southern Ethiopia.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Crime has devastating effects on the victims, the communities, the offenders, and their families too, in fact, beyond what can be actually measured (Zara and Farrington 2016). Particularly, recidivism upsets the individual’s health when they are in prison and it creates instability and disrupts the social cohesion of family and community (UNODC 2012; Kitaria 2014). In addition to that, recidivism jeopardizes public safety, security and escalates expenditures on law enforcement and criminal justice (Khamba 2017).

According to UNODC (2018), “If prisoners re-offend after discharge, there are costs related to policing and adjudicating these new offenses plus the costs of administering new sanctions. There are far less easily quantifiable or indirect costs to society, such as those borne by the victims of these crimes, those related with lost economic and community capacity, or through ex­prisoners relying on social services instead of contributing to society.” Thus, knowledge about the risk factors to recidivism is very important to develop preventive strategies and effective interventions.

In Ethiopia, various studies tried to examine the determinants of crime, for instance, a study conducted by Meti (2016), which focused on inmates in Kaliti Correctional Administration indicated that low parental guidance, peer influence, and lack of income are among the factors that influenced prisoners to commit a crime. Furthermore, studies conducted by Sisay (2016) and Sintayehu (2017) revealed that peer effect, family issues, economic problems, political and administrative issues were the main contributing factors for youth crime.

However, few studies have tried to consider the issue of recidivism in Ethiopia. For example, Abebaw's (2019) study indicates that the discrepancies between prisoner’s rehabilitation needs and rehabilitation programs offered at prison centers in Ethiopia make rehabilitation ineffective and contribute to recidivism among inmates. However, he lacked from discussing recidivism in detail. Fitsum (2018) also conducted a study on the discrepancy between rhetoric and practice barriers associated with prisoner rehabilitation at Hawassa correctional facility, his finding shows that Hawassa correctional facility has failed to fulfill its primary function of correction due to institutional and inmate related factors. Also, to some extent, he tried to discuss the debates on the efficiency of correctional rehabilitation in reducing recidivism. Yet, he also failed to show the factors that contribute to recidivism in detail.

Moreover, a study conducted by Goche and Hayelom (2018) indicates that the major factors that contribute to recidivism comprise economic problems, family and psychological problems in North East Ethiopia correctional centers. However, they slightly studied the social and institutional (correctional) factors that contribute to recidivism. Another study is conducted by Eskalehu (2019) in Bahir Dar Correctional Administration by using a qualitative research method on youth recidivism. His finding demonstrates that youth recidivism is caused by individual-related issues and household difficulties. Then again, he gave little attention to socio­economic factors that contribute to recidivism. Besides, both Goche and Hayelom, and Eskalehu studies were particularly conducted in the northern part of Ethiopia. As well, they suggested further research be done on recidivism to consider the issue at the national level and identify appropriate measures to address it.

In general, the reasons that motivated the researcher to conduct this study are: first, evidence shows that nowadays the issue of crime in general and recidivistic behavior, in particular, has become a great social problem in Ethiopia. The issue of crime nowadays disrupts the social order and creates fear and insecurity among the society, and also involves significant social costs in Ethiopia. Most importantly, recidivism causes continuous loss of property and life. Second, as argued before there is a gap in the literature basically in studying institutional (correctional) factors and social factors of recidivisim. Finally, the current Ethiopian Criminal Justice Policy (ECJP) (2011) encourages studies on the causes of crime to develop better crime prevention strategies. In view of these points, this study tried to examine the contributing factors to recidivism among prisoners who are serving time at Hawassa correctional center, southern Ethiopia. Hawassa correctional center is chosen based on its proximity to conduct the study with in the given time.

1.3 Objectives of the Study

1.3.1 General Objective

The overall objective of this study was to identify factors that contribute to recidivism in the case of prison inmates at Hawassa correctional center.

1.3.2 Specific Objectives

- To assess personal factors that contribute to recidivism;
- To identify the socio-economic factors that contribute to recidivism and;
- To investigate institutional factors that contribute to recidivism.

1.4 Significance of the Study

The government spends money to maintain offenders in prisons to rehabilitate them, but if there is reoffending and returning to prison that means the government resource is being wasted. In this regard, this study will be helpful for the policymakers and criminal justice agencies to develop better crime (recidivism) reduction strategies, rehabilitation, and social reintegration programs. Particularly, the findings of the study will have importance for administrators of rehabilitation facilities to develop or improve the current programs and services that could substitute the successful rehabilitation of inmates and their reentry into society as law-abiding citizens. This would not only be cost-saving for the government but would also ensure that instead of released offenders going back to prison, they participate in useful and legal economic activities that can help the growth of the country’s economy. Furthermore, this study will give some insight into the issue of recidivism in the Ethiopian context for the general readers because according to Eskedar (2001) and Eskalehu (2019) people in Ethiopia are not well aware of the issue of recidivism. Finally, this study will also serve as a way in and be helpful to initiate new researchers and educational experts for further studies, particularly from a sociological view.

1.5 Scope of the Study

People commit crimes for many reasons and they also stop committing crimes for many reasons (UNODC 2018). Moreover, there are various contributing factors to recidivism from different points of view, for instance, from social, biological, and psychological outlooks. However, this study was focused on sociological aspects primarily by looking at the personal, socio-economic, and institutional factors that contribute to recidivism with particular emphasis on prison inmates at Hawassa correctional center, which is found in Hawassa city. Hawassa correctional center held all the categories of criminals including awaiting trial, first-time convicts, and re-offenders.

However, this study was targeted at re-convicted prisoners, which means awaiting trial and first­time convicts were excluded in this study. Theoretically, the study was guided by selected four sociological theories: the Differential association theory of Edwin Sutherland, Labeling theory, Strain theories and Inmate Subculture theory to consider the issue of recidivism.

1.6 Limitations of the Study

The first limitation of this study is the study lacked a sufficient review of the literature concerning recidivism in the Ethiopian context particularly in southern Ethiopia due to the dearth of well-organized and published documents about the issue. The second limitation of this study is related to data collection, audio recording is not allowed by the prison administrations, as a result, the researcher was limited to use only note-taking during interviews, and therefore the researcher may have skipped some important issues. Lastly, the study was conducted only in Hawassa correctional center; however, there are many correctional centers in Ethiopia so it is difficult to generalize the issue of recidivism simply by using the finding of this study therefore it needs further study.

1.7 Challenges in Conducting the Study

Conducting research in prisons is somewhat difficult due to the protective and restrictive nature of the institution. In conducting this study, especially the researcher encountered the difficult task to convince prison managers to allow prisoners to participate in this study due to COVID- 191 protocol. The researcher convinced the prison managers by justifying the purpose of the study and the way how to conduct the study in a safe tactic. Another challenge is some participants were not cooperative for interviews and unwilling to give information particularly due to issues like shame and private experiences related to their past offenses, but the researcher overcame this issue by negotiating with the study participants by describing the purpose of the study and establishing a good rapport.

1.8 Organization of the Paper

This research paper is organized into five chapters. The first chapter introduced the introductory part of the inquiry along with its justification such as the background of the study, statement of the research problem, research objectives, scope of the study, and significance of the study. The second chapter presents a review of basic concepts, the empirical and theoretical literature on factors that contribute to recidivism. The third chapter comprises a description of the study area, the study design, the research approach, and the methods employed to conduct the study. The fourth chapter deals with results and discussion. The final chapter provides a summary, conclusion, and recommendations based on the key findings.


This chapter discusses both empirical and theoretical literature related to recidivism, basically concerning the specific objectives of the study. In detail, the chapter presents the basic concepts, previous empirical studies that have been conducted on factors contributing to recidivism, legal frameworks, and prison conditions of Ethiopia. The chapter also presents selected sociological theories and conceptual framework.

2.1 Basic Concepts

Every scientific study requires the definition of key concepts because it helps the researcher to understand the intended issue easily and explain the key findings (facts) properly. The concepts in this study are derived from the research problem and its objectives. These concepts are stated as follows.

2.1.1 Correctional Institution

Correction means the society's handling of persons after their conviction of a criminal offense. Usually, the components of the criminal justice system serve to punish and reform offenders by involving the deprivation of life, liberty, or property after due process of law (Glory 2009). Besides, correctional institutions are the places where convicted criminals serve out their sentences, including prisons, halfway houses, and supervised release programs. They are commonly statutory creations and are governed by boards of charities and corrections or similar boards that are part of municipal or state government (Joplin 2001).

2.1.2 Prison

The word prison/ jail has been defined as a place or penitentiary which is properly arranged and equipped for the reception of criminals who are legally convicted or are waiting to get punishment (Glory 2009; Islam and Antora 2019). According to English Oxford Dictionary, a prison is a building in which people are legally held as a punishment for a crime which they have committed or while waiting for trial (https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/prison). The main objective of the prison/jail is to rehabilitate prisoners thereby helping them to understand what was wrong with their behaviors and helping them to become productive citizens in the future after release from prison (Niriella 2010).

However, writers like Kagendo (2003), Mohseni (2012), and Islam and Antora (2019) argue that prison is not an appropriate training place for prisoners. They claim that criminals are more empowered in the prison for their dysfunctional behaviors, and they become more specialized in criminal activities. Furthermore, Damm (2020) in his article “Prison as a Criminal School: Peer Effects and Criminal Learning behind Bars” discussed that incarceration can have adverse effects on the prisoners because inmates learn from one another and thereby acquire or strengthen their criminal capital.

2.1.3 Recidivism

Before we see the definition of recidivism, it is important to define the concept of crime to understand the meaning of recidivism easily. The term “crime” comes from the Latin word “cemo/crimen” meaning intellectual mistake or fault. In ordinary language, crime is an unlawful act punishable by a state or other authority (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime). Sociologically, crime is a form of deviance as a result it is a social problem in any society. With these in mind, now we can see the concept of recidivism. There are various definitions given for recidivism by different researchers and academic writers. Let’s start with its origin, the word “recidivism” is derived from the Latin root words “re”, meaning “back” and “caedere” meaning “to fall” or literally “to fall back.” Therefore, recidivism means a “tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior; especially relapse into criminal behavior” (Barnett and Hagel 1977). According to Winnicott (1984), recidivism can be explained as an offender’s tendency to repeat his/her criminal behavior despite efforts towards reformation. Also, recidivism has variously been defined as a return to custody for any reason, including technical violations of an offender’s parole or probation (Verbrugge et al. 2002).

Recidivism, in a criminal justice context, refers to the return of an individual to criminal behavior after the person has been convicted of a prior offense, sentenced, and has been corrected (Darkwa 2015). Other studies define recidivism as re-arrest, reconviction, or re­incarceration of an ex-offender within a given time frame (James 2014). According to Schoeman (2010) recidivism is defined as:

“Recidivism is a behavior process or pattern whereby an offender, who was previously found guilty of a crime and sentenced in a court of law, commits a further unspecified offense and is found guilty of this offense, and receives a further undetermined sentence in a court of law”.

According to this definition, an offender is deemed to be a recidivist if:

- he/she was previously found guilty of a crime in a court of law and sentenced to an indeterminate sentence;
- he/she commits a further criminal offense within the specified survival period; and
- he/she is found guilty of a further unspecified crime and receives a further unspecified sentence in a court of law.

In general, when we see these all definitions of recidivism, it is so complex and broad because it includes even the technical violations and re-arrests statistics (individuals who are found not guilty of the charges). Therefore, for the purpose of this study, recidivism is defined as committing a fresh crime after serving at least one previous sentence of imprisonment and being convicted for the fresh crime, and returning to prison with a new sentence. The rationale behind focusing on reconvicted prisoners is: reconviction is the definitive definition of recidivism (Zara and Farrington 2016) and it is also a widely accepted definition of recidivism (Gomez 2017). Besides, the criminal code of FDRE, proclamation No.414/2004, articles 67 and 188 states that an individual is a recidivist only if there is a previously served sentence. Therefore, ex-offenders can only be considered as recidivists if they are convicted for a new offense, and thus a re-arrest cannot be considered as recidivism.

2.2 Empirical Findings on Factors Contributing to Recidivism

Several studies examined the contributing factors to recidivism among released offenders in different countries. The following subsections discuss relevant previous findings related to the study objectives.

2.2.1 Individual or Personal Level Factors

Evidence shows that there are two categories of individual-level contributing factors to recidivism: individual static characteristics and individual dynamic characteristics. Static factors are those that cannot be changed as a result of correctional interventions, traits such as age and sex. Dynamic risk factors, on the other hand, are traits of the offender that can be transformed, either through rehabilitation programs or by changes in the former prison inmate’s circumstances, such as drug and alcohol use, education level, and the like (Forkuor. 2017; Olson 2018).

Studies on the relationship between age and recidivism stated that recidivism decrease significantly with old ages (Zamble 1997; Zara and Farrington 2016; Gomez 2017). According to Kitaria's (2014) study, young people are more likely to recidivate than their older counterparts among Kenyan prisoners. Furthermore, younger offenders are more likely to get a new conviction sooner than the older ones in Chilean prisons (Gomez 2017).

Sex is another determining factor for recidivism among inmates in prisons. Studies show that the proportion of male recidivates is greater than the female recidivates; the reasons for the larger proportions of male recidivists in prisons to their female counterparts can be linked to the fact that male criminals are more likely to adventurous and involved in a variety of antisocial activities than females. Furthermore, women are more likely to be invested in the family unit, therefore they have less time to be involved in other more dangerous or illegal activities outside the home than males (Oruta 2016).

Regarding the dynamic personal level contributing factors to recidivism, Glover et al.’s (2018) study in Ghana shows that lack of interest to participate in rehabilitation programs, inability to cope with challenges in the society, and substance abuse contribute to recidivism. Similarly, Olson (2018) identified factors like antisocial personalities, and drug and alcohol use patterns increase the chance of recidivism.

2.2.2 Institutional Factors

Institutions are a system of behavioral and relationship patterns that are densely interwoven and enduring, and function across an entire society. They order and structure the behavior of individuals by means of their normative character. Institutions regulate the behavior of individuals in core areas of society. Correctional institutions are one of them. Accordingly, prison rehabilitation aims to modify the behavior of the offenders and reintegrate them into society as productive members (Darkwa 2015). However, the effectiveness of rehabilitation has been seriously questioned by different researchers. Studies show that the atmosphere in which the rehabilitation programs are carried out is not conducive to reform. This is because inmates feel harassed and exploited in prison which in turn gives them a negative attitude toward the work they engage in correction programs. Such ineffective rehabilitation systems hinder the successful reentry of the offenders into the community; as a result, they revert to their criminal behavior (Komu 2017). In support of this argument, Lekalakala's (2016) study in South Africa showed that offenders re-offend due to the ineffectiveness of the rehabilitation programs. Because inmates turned out of the prison without any job skills and unreformed.

Moreover, studies show that overcrowded inmates could not successfully be rehabilitated, instead, it gives the chance for the inmates to interact with all kinds of offenders, share their experiences and strategies related to illegal activities, thus after discharge they become at high risk of re-offending, and re-incarceration (Darkwa 2015; Komu 2017). According to Antwi (2015), there is a new prisonization existing within prison walls. He mentioned that offenders import criminal values and attitudes from their subculture groups which are developed in the prison together with socio-demographic characteristics and criminal career variables, such as the length of the sentence and criminal record. This may increase the likelihood of recidivistic behavior upon discharge.

In fact, prison conditions in Africa and other developing countries are very harsh and compounded by poor characteristics such as overcrowding, poor nutrition, degrading clothing and bedding, and poor sanitation (Sikasa 2015). For instance, Darkwa, (2015) indicates that overcrowding along with limited infrastructure in the Ghana prison is the major challenges faced by prison officers in rehabilitating and reforming offenders. He stated that due to overcrowding the prison officers couldn’t manage every activity of the inmates. So it allows the inmates to form groups and share their criminal experience and methods of committing a crime, which maintains more serious crimes after discharge.

Other studies showed that lack of interventions during the transition of offenders back into the community tends to become obstacles to a crime-free lifestyle. The concept of the transition of offenders back into the community is called offender reentry. Offender re-entry means the process of leaving prison or jail and returning to society (Heyns, 2011).

According to Griffiths et al. (2007), assistance or interventions (i.e. material, psychological, and social support) are very important upon offenders' release to reduce the levels of recidivism. These interventions represent a wide array of efforts sponsored by the justice system, in collaboration with community agencies and organizations. In the absence of these programs at the time of prisoner’s release, they may face many obstacles, ranging from meeting basic survival needs such as shelter and employment (Wodahl 2006; Griffiths et al. 2007; Heyns 2011). Therefore, assistance-based transition programs are very significant for ex-offenders. Furthermore, reintegration assistance is not only necessary for the sake of the offenders, but even more importantly for the safety of the community, the benefit of potential future victims, and ultimately for the socio-economic development of countries (UNODC 2012).

2.2.3 Socio-Economic Factors

This section briefly highlights the socio-economic factors that may hinder the offender’s ability to become law-abiding citizens after discharge from prison. Many studies confirmed that socio­economic factors are playing a greater role in contributing to recidivism, issues such as family problems, peer pressure, discrimination, homelessness, and unemployment (Kitaria 2014; Sorochi 2015; Oruta 2016; Akporaro 2019). These issues are a result of the offenders’ past experiences and others are more directly associated with the consequences of incarceration and the difficulty of transitioning back into the community (Ajala 2011).

Studies confirmed that released ex-offenders who continue to connect with criminal associates upon release are more likely to re-offend. The time they spend with criminal associates enhances their likelihood to re-offend because it presents them with methods, motivations, and support for engaging in criminal activities (Gómez 2017; Olson 2018). Samuels's (2010) qualitative study demonstrates that the influence of gangsterism and peer pressure on ex-offenders leads them to re-committing of crime and re-incarceration in South Africa.

Other empirical studies have shown that living with a spouse or healthy family reduces the chances of unlawful activities/behavior after release (Dadashazar 2017; Sorochi 2015). Offenders with greater family support do better in terms of obtaining employment and having greater stability in employment than those with less or no support (Glover et al. 2018). If there is a lack of parents or close family support for offenders the result is loneliness and homeless that increases the severity of alcohol and other drug problems among offenders, consequently, they return to their criminal behavior again (Hakansson and Berglund 2012; Simasiku 2018).

Much of the literature also showed that the negative attitude of society toward ex-offenders contributes to recidivism. For instance, Breen (2011) examined the effect of stereotypes associated with having a criminal record, and how this affects the reintegration of ex-offenders at John Howard Society in Toronto by using 18 in-depth interviews with ex-offenders. He discussed that after their release from prison, ex-offenders are stereotyped and face community exclusion due to their criminal record, this phenomenon has a negative impact on the offender’s ability to reintegrate back into society. Furthermore, Martinez (2009) stated that ex-offenders often facing discrimination or stigma because of their former offending status. Such stigmatization increases the tendency of ex-convicts into criminal acts.

Extensive literature has shown that unemployment is another major contributing factor to recidivism (Sorochi 2015; Bello 2017). According to Graffam et al. (2004):

Employment provides more than the income necessary to support adequate material conditions. It also provides structure and routine, while filling time. It provides opportunities to expand one’s social network to include other productive members of society. In addition to all this, employment can contribute to enhanced self-esteem and other psychological health”.

This quotation connotes that employment is very important for every individual beyond satisfying the basic need. Released offenders need a job to attain self-sufficiency and be better able to avoid involvement in criminal activity. But, due to unemployment, offenders are more likely to return to their criminal behavior (Bello 2017). Awilly (2015) in his study found out that employers cannot legally hire individuals who have criminal records. As a result, many offenders do not have access to work. Besides, he showed that even if persons with criminal records are hired, many employers give them seasonal or temporary employment. This temporary employment is better than nothing, once it is over, the probability of the offender reverting into criminal activities is high because they face challenges to support themselves financially.

Other research works also shown that homelessness or lack of secure housing is another area of concern for newly released offenders. Released prisoners who do not have stable housing arrangements are more likely to return to prison (Baer et al. 2006). This issue is especially due to the offender’s incarceration. Because of incarceration, offenders may lose their livelihood, their personal belongings, their family, and it may damage their social networks as a result they lose the ability to maintain housing for themselves (Ajala 2011). Finally, they may find themselves on the street and in illegal activities.

2.3 Recidivism, Legal Frameworks and Prison Conditions of Ethiopia

2.3.1 Legal Frameworks and Prison Conditions of Ethiopia

As discussed earlier, institutional issues are one of the contributing factors to recidivism. Therefore, the purpose of this section is to show the legal and prison conditions of Ethiopia. Before the seventeenth century, the Ethiopian penal system was mainly based on diverse customary practices. However, gradually the penal system in Ethiopia shifted from retribution and deterrence to reformation and rehabilitation (Glory 2009).

The new Criminal Code of FDRE (2004), art 87 states that the penalties and measures shall always be with respect due to human dignity. Besides, Article 5 of the Federal Prison Commission Establishment Proclamation (2003) states that the objective of the commission is to provide correction and rehabilitation services for the prisoners to enable them to achieve attitudinal and behavioral reforms and become law-abiding, peaceful, and productive citizens.

According to Eden (2018), there are six federal prisons, 120 local prisons, and many unofficial detention centers in Ethiopia. As she cited, most of these prison and pretrial detention centers are harsh and sometimes life-threatening for the inmates. Other studies also indicated that depression among prisoners in Ethiopia is high due to the punitive prison conditions (Teresa et al. 2017). The US Department of human rights report (2016) confirmed that prisoners are mistreated by the prison guards and they were also experiencing mental health problems due to solitary confinement, overcrowding, and lack of adequate healthcare facilities and services.

Furthermore, most prisons in Ethiopia are overcrowded (Eden 2018), however, the vital issue is the effect of overcrowding on the prisoners. In most Ethiopian prisons there is no separation among prisoners (based on age and offense type) as a result, hardened criminals influence the minor criminals (Glory 2009; Fitsum 2018). Moreover, Glory (2009) discussed that prisoners may have been working for several years in one of the prison workshops but they were not paid for their labor though legally entitled to get a certain percentage out of the sales of the goods they had produced. Therefore, at the time of release prisoners may not have enough money for their meals and transport to reach their destination. That contrbuties to reoffending. In general, based on over mentioned information, it is important to note that the prison conditions in Ethiopia are relatively harsh and it has an influence on the prisoners.

2.3.2 Factors Contributing to Recidivism in Ethiopia

There are different factors that push individuals to participate in criminal activities. Therefore, first considering the determinant factors of crime in Ethiopia and southern Ethiopia is important. Numerous studies show that social and economic issues have a greater influence on the individuals in Ethiopia to commit a crime. These include unemployment, poverty, migration, peer influence, lack of income, parent's failure to give proper guidance for the young, divorce, and the like (Sisay 2016; Meti 2016; Getahun 2017; Nigatu et al. 2019).

Moreover, a study conducted by Aklilu et al. (2016) in Sidama zone and its neighbors shows that age, sex, educational background, marital status, residence, employment status, wealth status, awareness of criminal law, attitude towards revenge, and previous criminal history are the most important determinants of crime.

As discussed earlier, in Ethiopia prisons are responsible for carrying out the functions of criminal justice, incarcerating offenders with the aim of reforming, rehabilitating, and reintegrating them into their respective communities. Accordingly, many ex-offenders are able to once again become contributing members of society and avoid future criminal activity but others find themselves again in criminal activities and finally in prison. Regarding this issue, studies on contributing factors for reoffending in Ethiopia indicate that age, marital status, low educational and skill acquisitions level, alcohol and drug use, peer pressure, unemployment, poverty, family problems, false witness, lack of adequate rehabilitation are the main determinants of recidivism (Goche and Hayelom 2018; Eskalehu 2019). These studies were particularly conducted in the northern part of Ethiopia, in correctional centers like Bahir Dar, Dessie, and Woldiya. However, to understand the issue of recidivism in the national context it is important to conduct further study in another region of the country. So, that is why this study tried to deal with this issue in southern Ethiopia.

2.4 Theoretical Framework

Theories and theoretical perspectives are useful tools that help us to understand and explain the world around us, they shape how we can describe and analyze empirical realities (Kleemans 2014). In the context of sociology and criminology, they help us to understand the factors for criminal behavior, the workings of the criminal justice system, and the actors in the system (See & Kieser 2013). According to Yeraswork (2010) using multiple theoretical perspectives to a single study in social research guides the researcher to understand the intended issue from a different direction. Besides, different theoretical perspectives have their assumptions and set of concepts, accordingly, each theoretical concept helps the researcher to interpret the meaning and significance of the data in holistic outlook (Neuman 2014). Taking this in mind, for the purpose of this study four relevant sociological theories which better explain the issue of recidivism were selected. They are discussed as follows.

2.4.1 Differential Association Theory of Edwin Sutherland

Edwin H. Sutherland is a U.S. sociologist and criminologist who advanced the theory of differential association to explain criminal behavior in the 1920s and 1930s (Edewor 2010). According to him, criminal behavior is learned through interaction with others in intimate personal groups. The learning includes techniques of committing criminal acts, motives, drives, rationalization, and attitudes favorable to committing a crime (See 2004; Nirmala 2009).

The nine basic principles of Sutherland's theory are 1. Criminal behavior is learned. 2. Learning is a by-product of interaction. 3. Learning occurs within intimate groups. 4. Criminal techniques are learned. 5. Recognitions of legitimate code impact thought processes and drives. 6. Differential affiliations (associations) may change in recurrence, term, need, and escalation. 7. The method of learning criminal behavior by affiliation with criminal and anti-criminal designs includes all of the components included in numerous other learning processes. 8. Criminal behavior is an expression of general needs and values, but it is not excused by those general needs and values because non-criminal behavior is also an impression of those same needs and values. 9. A person becomes a criminal because of an excess of definitions favorable to the violence of law over definitions unfavorable to violation of the law (Oyakhiromen 2010). Notably, he states that criminal behavior is influenced by exposure to pro-criminal and anti­criminal individuals (See 2004; Piquero 2016).

The researcher employed the differential association theory of Edwin Sutherland for this particular recidivism study because it has a useful lens regarding factors contributing to recidivism especially related to social interaction and learning criminal behavior. This theory explains recidivistic behavior as learned in interaction with others, particularly with anti-criminal individuals. It claims that individuals associated with anti-criminal persons are more likely to learn and adopt criminal values and behaviors. For instance, a person who has been imprisoned in prison learns many techniques from his intimate groups, so after discharge, he may try to commit a crime again using more innovative techniques. Another point is after discharge the offender joins his/her family, friends, and other groups, so if those groups may have criminal behavior, the chance of the released offender relapsing in criminal behavior is high.

2.4.2 Labeling Theory

Explanation of labeling theory about criminal behavior relies on the symbolic interactionist perspective. Symbolic interactionists propose that “an individual’s character and self-concept, cognitive forms, values, and states of mind are seen as existing within the setting of society acting, responding, and changing in social interaction with others,” (Mill 2009; Aksan et al. 2009). Following this general assumption labeling theory states that deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence of the application of rules and sanctions to an “offender” by others. According to this theory, societal judgment is the basic cause of recidivism. Individuals who are labeled as criminals feel they are excluded from society and they will begin to view themselves as deviant because they internalize the label which society has applied to them (Breen 2011). It means that, once offenders are judged by society as criminals, it is very hard to get back to what they once had, and often they experience it as their identity (Burke 2009; Breen 2011).

Labeling theorists mention two concepts: the concept of primary deviance and secondary deviance. Primary deviance represents the first deviant act committed by an individual. They do not concern themselves much with the primary deviance, and they do not explain why an individual would choose to commit the original deviant act. But the secondary deviance is of the principal importance to the labeling theorists. Secondary deviance denotes deviance that occurs once an individual has been labeled. This type of deviance is said to happen because the individual has believed the label as a central part of their identity, and is acting in a manner congruent with this identity (Burke 2009; Breen 2011).

Furthermore, according to the labeling theory, official efforts to control crime often have an effect on increasing the chance of recidivism. People who are captured, indicted, and rebuffed are labeled as criminals accordingly, criminal justice systems like prisons see and treat these individuals as wrongdoers, and then this increases the probability of ensuing unlawful activity (See 2004; Edewor 2010).

Thus, the researcher used this theory because it enables to examine the social and institutional factors that contribute to recidivism. Labeling theory explains recidivism as a product of society’s reaction to the individual. It contends that if an individual once sentenced to a crime, is labeled as a criminal and thereby he acquires a criminal identity. Moreover, individuals once are labeled and rejected by society; it is very difficult for them to live in harmony with the legitimate means. Finding a job or acquiring housing becomes very difficult for them because members of the conventional society do not want to associate with them. Also, due to being excluded from society, they lose support from their friends and family, as a result, they are forced to associate with individuals who have also been stereotyped and segregated from society. In other word, the rejection by law-abiding persons opens the door for acceptance by the wrongdoers. Consequently, the offender becomes increasingly socialized into criminal behavior and more estranged from law-abiding behavior.

2.4.3 Strain Theories

Strain theory was initially developed by Durkheim who first introduced the term, "anomie" which described a feeling of disorientation and anxiety as a result of the "breakdown of traditional life in modern society" (Burke 2009; Edewor 2010). Adapting Durkheim’s anomie theory, Merton (1938) focused on the discrepancy between societal goals and the legitimate means of attaining those goals (Burke, 2009). Merton’s Strain theory explains that the real problem is not created by a sudden social change, but rather by a social structure that holds out the same goals to all its members without giving them equivalent means to attain them. This lack of integration between what the culture calls for and what the structure permits causes criminal behavior. Therefore, deviance or crime is a symptom of the social structure. Furthermore, Merton posited that crime was caused by strain, the difference between one’s economic aspirations and their actual means of achieving those aspirations. He proposed that when individuals were unable to meet their goals through legitimate means they would resort to illegitimate, or illegal measures to achieve their goals (Burke 2009; Edewor 2010).

A recent version of strain theory is Robert Agnew's (1992) general strain theory (GST) describing crime may result from the failure to achieve three interrelated goals: money, status, and adolescent autonomy from adults. Regarding money, GST states that lower-class people are prevented from getting money through legal channels, such as work. As a result, such people experience strain and they may attempt to get money through illegal channels such as theft, selling drugs, and prostitution (Miller 2009). Concerning status and respect, GST argues that people have a general desire for status and respect. Many males, particularly those who are young, lower-class, and members of minority groups, experience problems in satisfying their desire to be viewed and treated as men. These people may try to "accomplish masculinity" through unlawful activity. Another issue is autonomy. Autonomy may be defined as power over oneself: the ability to resist the demands of others and engage in activities without the permission of others. Accordingly, this theory states that most lower-class adults try to attain their autonomy through illegal means (Edewor 2010).

Furthermore, according to this theory people engage in crime and become repetitive offenders because of strain or stress. GST states that some strains are more likely to lead to crime than others, largely because they generate strong negative emotions, overwhelm legal coping resources and are conducive to criminal coping (Miller 2009). Criminal coping is more likely among those with poor coping skills and resources (e.g., poor social skills and inadequate problem-solving skills). It is also more likely among those with few conventional social supports; that is, family, friends, and others who can assist. And it is more likely among those who are low in social control or have little to lose by joining in crime (e.g., are unemployed, doing poorly in school, do not get along with parents) (Burke 2009; Piquero 2016).

Therefore, the researcher found strain theories as important to this study because it enables to examination of the socio-economic factors for recidivism. According to strain theories, recidivism is to be understood as the reflections or products of the approach that society organizes its goals, and the legitimate means available to access these goals. For instance, released offenders may not access to equal opportunities in goal attainment due to their criminal records. Especially, offenders who are from the lower class are frequently prevented from achieving such goals through legal channels. That could lead them to certain strains and it increases the likelihood of crime. It means that offenders may use crime as a way to reduce or escape from their strains.

2.4.4 Subculture Theory

A subculture is a sub-division within the dominant culture that has its own norms, beliefs and values. Sub cultures may form among members of racial and ethnic minorities, among prisoners, among occupational groups, among ghetto dwellers (Glory 2009). According to Albert Cohen, an American Sociologist, deviant behavior is supported by subculture. Cohen describes the subculture as one that “takes its form the larger culture, but turns them upside down. Subculture of deviants develops as a result of socialization practices found in the ghetto or slum environment. The members of the gang lack basic skills necessary to achieve social and economic success or what Cohen calls middle-class measuring roles (hard work, formal education, delay gratification). The consequences of this deprivation result in deviant subculture (Burke 2009; Oyakhiromen 2010).

A sub culture of criminals have thier own norms which stand over against the norms of the larger group (the dominant culture). Cultural deviance theorists assume that: Individuals become criminal by learning the criminal values of the groups to which they belong. In conforming to their own group standards, these people break the law of the dominant culture (Burke 2009; Glory 2009).

According to Sykes, the pains of imprisonment tended to gather around five general areas of deprivation, and it was due to these deprivations that the prison subculture developed, largely as a means of adapting to the circumstances within the prison. Sykes (1958) included the following five categories as being particularly challenging to men and women who do time: 1. The loss of liberty. 2. The loss of goods and services readily available in society. 3. The loss of heterosexual relationships, both sexual and nonsexual. 4. The loss of autonomy. 5. The loss of personal security. This issues contrbuties to formation of subculture in prisons like gang group, facial tattooing group and homosexuality. This groups felt they had nothing to lose. Members of this group are recidivists and habitual offenders and being labeled within prison they are also resisted by outside society (Cohen 1955). Consequently, upon their release, they would unable to have a normal life in society especially during the daytime when other people in society could clearly see their faces and they might fear. In addition, the majority of the individuals felt some sort of rejection from their families. Also on their release, they could not apply for jobs and remain with permanent deviant behavior (Cohen 1955; Sykes 1958). Therefore, the researcher assumed that subculture theory was significant to this study because it enables to examine the institutional and social factors that contribute to recidivism.

2.5 Summary of the Empirical and Theoretical Literature

In general, based on the empirical and theoretical literature, it can be confirmed that both the individual level and structural factors can contribute to recidivism. At the individual level, both static and dynamic factors can contribute to recidivism. The static contributing factors are those nothing could be done about it such as age and sex. Studies confirm that there is a sharp increase in criminal activity in mid-adolescence (young) and men are more likely to commit crime and return to prison. The dynamic personal factors include issues like low interest in participating in rehabilitation programs, educational level, and alcohol and drug abuse. On the other hand, structural issues like socio-economic and institutional factors are major contributing factors to recidivism which include, peer pressure, family issues, stigmatization, unemployment, homelessness, ineffective rehabilitation service, lack of support upon discharge, and the like. Moreover, theories (Sutherland differential association theory, labeling theory, Strain theory and Inmate subculture theory), which are guided by this study, explains recidivism as a product of learning, stigma/labeling, socio-economic structure and subcultural behaviour.


1 COVID-19 is the name of the “novel coronavirus” disease. The new CORONA virus has been identified as the cause of the acute respiratory disease in humans since the end of December 2019(2019-nCoV). It is first seen in Wuhan, China, now the virus is a challenge for both developed and underdeveloped nations. Coronaviruses cause mild respiratory illnesses, such as the common cold; Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS); Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) (FMOH, April 2020).

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Factors Contributing to Recidivism. Prison Inmates at Hawassa Correctional Center, Southern Ethiopia
Wollo University  (Social science and humanities)
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factors, contributing, recidivism, prison, inmates, hawassa, correctional, center, southern, ethiopia
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Tomas Tsegaye (Author), 2022, Factors Contributing to Recidivism. Prison Inmates at Hawassa Correctional Center, Southern Ethiopia, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1188038


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