Date of Defense


Date of Graduation



Finance and Commercial Law

First Advisor

Colleen Stano

Second Advisor

Lauren Foley


Recidivism rates in the United States (70%) are almost triple that of most European countries (20% in Norway). The question that this project aims to answer is “How and Why are Recidivism Rates in the United States and Europe Different?”. High recidivism rates like the ones we have in the United States indicate that a criminal justice system is perpetuating a crime cycle, rather than rehabilitating or reforming its prisoners. High recidivism rates in the United States are first and foremost caused by high incarceration rates and high juvenile incarceration rates. Other causes are a focus on punishment in our criminal justice system, negative societal views of incarceration, and high rates of mental health problems. European criminal justice systems focus on rehabilitation, smooth reintegration into society, and humane treatment. Their prisons allow for support, community, and autonomy for prisoners. Our prisons are built on the goals of custody and order and can create long-term mental health problems for inmates.

The United States was comparatively more focused on rehabilitation of prisoners until the 1970s and President Nixon’s War on Drugs, as well as Robert Martinson’s “Nothing Works” Doctrine. Our prison system is not effective in how it is used today and can change for the better. After acknowledging the problem that we have in our criminal justice system, states including North Dakota, California, and Connecticut have implemented programs focused on rehabilitating prisoners, and they seem to be working thus far.

As a country, we need to shift our goals of prison to rehabilitation, make more mental health resources available to our population, and create stability for people coming out of prison if we want to continue improving our recidivism rates. We must help our youth, our prison population, and those who are underserved and underrepresented in government in order to create a system who helps those in it, rather than making them worse off than they already are.

Access Setting

Honors Thesis-Open Access