Crime Prevention

Do Criminal Records Predict Future Offending?

Megan Kurlychek
Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, State University of New York

Key Findings

  • An individual’s arrest record can help predict whether or not he or she will reoffend and is most accurate in predicting behavior immediately following an individual’s arrest.
  • Differences between the individuals with and without prior convictions dramatically decrease over time and become similar, but do not match, after six to seven years.


In the study, “Scarlet Letters and Recidivism: Does an Old Criminal Record Predict Future Offending,” Kurlychek and her coauthors study the idea that prior criminal records can predict future crimes. Kurlychek focuses on whether the risk of re-offending after a certain period of time can decrease to the level of risk as an individual with no prior convictions. The researchers found that after about six or seven years, individuals with prior criminal records have a risk of re-offending approximating, but not equaling, an individual with no prior convictions.

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