Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Monday, March 23, 2009


People have a tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior. That is the definition of recidivism. Most people mistakenly think that the definition only applies to a relapse into criminal or deviant social behaviour (such as drug abuse and alcoholism).

Over dinner with friends during the weekend, one very learned friend told a story of how an accused who was being cross examined and asked about his previous convictions, yelled out "You don' remember, Your Worship? You represented me 14 years ago, when I chop up my father!"

But the relapses cover all sorts of behaviour. The most noted case doing the rounds is that of Rihanna and Chris Brown, dancing under the umbrella of domestic abuse. The story goes that he hit her savagely (provoked or not, we will not discuss). She fled from him for a short while, but was soon back in his 'clutches'. Many express concern that he will repeat his acts; they cite the many cases of
beaten women who seem to return to get more beatings. But, we have the 'star' drug and alcohol abusers or participants in dodgy stuff who seem damned to do their thing even when money and fame are theirs for the asking: Whitney Houston, James Brown, Michael Vick, Alex Rodriguez, Michael Jackson, O. J. Simpson .... Repeated crimes. Repeated behaviour. "Psychopaths", we call them.

You have it too with lovers or couples and people who have 'emotional bonds' (as distinct to blood ties). They each go their separate ways after things don't work out, but they keep 'running into' each other, by 'accident' or design.
Ironically, a reverse, man-beaten-by-woman story appears in today's Jamaica Gleaner (see report and picture), which reports how one woman kept on going back to her man and giving him more licks!

Before people run to tear up their stock of illicit correspondence or wipe their hard disks and phone records, you need to realise that the same behaviour exists with people who are bonded by work and play. Band members are a common group (no pun intended) and the revival is famous. You see it too with staff members returning to an old employer. Both of these instances seem to not last long and end up where they were, that is broken. You see it too with sports teams, but here it is really interesting to see the many players who return to 'where it all started' after being journeymen and play out their careers in the 'cradle'.

Psychologists may look at the repeated behaviour as a kind of 'security blanket' people need. But, it's incredible to think that people are really afraid of abandoning things that seem so clearly bad for them. Hard then for kettles to call pots black.

For criminals, recidivism rates in the UK and US are somewhere around 50-60 percent; for certain crimes the rates are higher. Some US Department of Justice data indicate that thieves have a particular problem:
  • Released prisoners with the highest rearrest rates were robbers (70%), burglars (74%), larcenists (75%), motor vehicle thieves (79%), those in prison for possessing or selling stolen property (77%), and those in prison for possessing, using, or selling illegal weapons (70%).
For other types of criminals, the rates are much smaller:
  • Within 3 years, 2.5% of released rapists were arrested for another rape, and 1.2% of those who had served time for homicide were arrested for homicide. These are the lowest rates of re-arrest for the same category of crime.
A study showed that 272,111 offenders discharged in 1994 had accumulated 4.1 million arrest charges before their most recent imprisonment and another 744,000 charges within 3 years of release.

Sociologists suggest that the increasing computerization and accessibility of criminal records is having a negative impact on recidivism rates as technology advances. Prior to the computer revolution, persons with criminal records were often able to relocate and start their lives over with clean slates in new communities. Former criminals rose to become some of America's greatest leaders in law, industry, and politics by obscuring their records. This possibility seems to be narrowing as criminal records become electronically stored and accessible.

I have not found data on social relationship recidivism. Maybe, I should do an anecdotal study amongst my friends and acquaintance. I'm sure I could get a grant from some agency to fund it.

Ironically, the computer age may limit certain forms of social 'recidivism' as people's computer usage and electronic records get used to confront them with their relapses. Facebook has been used to nab some sexual offenders. People's e-mail and telephone records have been represented as evidence in separation and corruption cases or other instances of indiscretion. Computer programmers and tech nerds may yet become the world's unwitting sleuths as there are very few effective ways of erasing electronic information from a computer short of destroying the whole machine (and that may actually need to be some huge server in a silo in Siberia). People don't need to resort to surveillance program to check their partners because like with criminals, careless behaviour, sets its own traps.

We have seen the social recidivists in high office: Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer, perhaps Rod Blagojevich, Lord Mandelson, repeat offenders all, clear patterns of dodgy behaviour. All caught by electronic records (with the help of people's tendency to keep mementos). But, there is a string of lower officials, who get caught in webs of deceit as they keep reverting to type.

I wish I had studied psychology, like my father, and could do also a study on obsessive compulsive behaviour as it appears across the range of human behaviour. Neatnicks in the home and office tend to be orderly across their activities, so when they are not cleaning draws and cupboards and their social behaviour is 'off track', it bears the same repeated behaviour traits: schedulers at home and work and play.

Funny to think that the line between those whom some would condemn as criminals is so thinly separating they themselves from the same class.

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