Skip to main navigation menu Skip to main content Skip to site footer

Original article

Vol. 151 No. 1112 (2021)

Recidivism in Switzerland: the influence of custodial sanctions

Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2021;151:w20462



Although many studies have investigated the influence of personal characteristics on recidivism, knowledge about the impact of correctional policies remains limited. The present study adds to this debate by investigating the effect of the dualistic system of custodial sanctions in Switzerland over time. Specifically, we: (1) tested the influence that different types of custodial sanctions – sentences (offering regular prison treatment) and measures (offering crime-related rehabilitation programmes) – have on reconviction rates; and (2) forecasted future reconviction rates to estimate their value in the year 2020.


National level data from the Swiss Federal Statistical Office were collected, including 3-year reconviction rates after release from custody and the number of persons serving custodial sentences and measures. A time series framework was used for the analyses, which included data available from 1988 to 2013 (n = 26 years).


The number of persons serving custodial sentences had no effect on recidivism (p = 0.582); however, a higher number of persons serving custodial measures was significantly associated with a decrease in recidivism (p = 0.003). For the year 2020, a reconviction rate of 28% (range 23–33%) was predicted.


Custodial measures seem to be associated with a reduction in recidivism. However, owing to the indeterminate time associated with some custodial measures, often at the cost of the prisoners’ rights and the criminal justice system, future studies are needed to determine the optimal serving time for custodial measures.


  1. King RS, Elderbroom B. Improving recidivism as a performance measure. Washington (DC): Urban Institute; 2014. Available from:
  2. Yukhnenko D Sridhar S Fazel S. A systematic review of criminal recidivism rates worldwide: 3-year update. Wellcome Open Res. 2020;4:28. doi:.
  3. Payne J. Recidivism in Australia: findings and future research. Canberra (Australia): Australian Institute of Criminology; 2007. Available from:
  4. Hunt K, Easley B. The effects of aging on recidivism among federal offenders. United States Sentencing Commission. Columbus (WA): U.S. Sentencing Commission; 2017. Available from:
  5. Council of State Governments Justice Center. States report reductions in recidivism. Washington (DC): The Council; 2012. Available from:
  6. Bonta J, Andrews D. The psychology of criminal conduct. 6th ed. New York: Routledge; 2017.
  7. Cottle CC Lee RJ Heilbrun K. The prediction of criminal recidivism in juveniles: a meta-analysis. Crim Justice Behav. 2001;28(3):367–94. doi:.
  8. Gendreau P Little T Goggin C. A meta‐analysis of the predictors of adult offender recidivism: what works! Criminology. 1996;34(4):575–608. doi:.
  9. Hanson RK Morton-Bourgon KE. The characteristics of persistent sexual offenders: a meta-analysis of recidivism studies. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2005;73(6):1154–63. doi:.
  10. Yukhnenko D Blackwood N Fazel S. Risk factors for recidivism in individuals receiving community sentences: a systematic review and meta-analysis. CNS Spectr. 2020;25(2):252–63. doi:.
  11. Cullen FT Jonson CL Nagin DS. Prisons do not reduce recidivism: the high cost of ignoring science. Prison J. 2011;91(Suppl 3):S48–65. doi:.
  12. Gendreau P Goggin C Cullen FT Andrews DA. The effects of community sanctions and incarceration on recidivism. Forum Correct Res. 2000;12(2):10–3. doi:
  13. Nagin DS, Cullen FT, Jonson CL. Imprisonment and reoffending. In: Tonry M, editor. Crime and justice: a review of research. Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Press; 2009. p. 115–200.
  14. Smith P, Goggin C, Gendreau P. The effects of prison sentences and intermediate sanctions on recidivism: general effects and individual differences. Ontario (Canada): Solicitor General of Canada; 2002. Available from:
  15. Villettaz P Gillieron G Killias M. The effects on re‐offending of custodial vs. non‐custodial sanctions: an updated systematic review of the state of knowledge. Campbell Syst Rev. 2015;11(1):1–92. doi:.
  16. Smith P, Gendreau P. A longitudinal examination of inmate behavior and program activities on institutional adjustment and recidivism. Ohio: University of Cincinnati; 2010.
  17. Swiss Criminal Code of December 21, 1937 (2020 March 3). Available from:
  18. Thommen M. Introduction to Swiss law. Berlin (Germany): Carl Grossmann Verlag; 2018.
  19. Federal Statistical Office. Crime and criminal justice. Neuchâtel (Switzerland): The Office; 2020. Available from:
  20. Capdevila CM, Blanch SM, Ferrer PM, Andrés PA, Framis FB, Comas LN, et al. Prison recidivism rate 2014. Catalonia (Spain): Centre d'Estudis Jurídics i Formació Especialitzada; 2015. Available from:
  21. Gelb A, Velázquez T. The changing state of recidivism: fewer people going back to prison. Philadelphia: The Pew Charitable Trusts; 2018. Available from:
  22. Australia W, Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services. Recidivism rates and the impact of treatment programs. Perth (Western Australia): The Office; 2014. Available from:
  23. Scottish Government. Reconviction rates in Scotland: 2016-17 offender cohort. Edinburgh (Scotland): The Government; 2019. Available from:
  24. Wartna BSJ, Tollenaar N, Verweij S, Alberda DL, Essers AAM. 2015 recidivism report. The Hague (Netherlands): Ministry of Security and Justice; 2017. Available from:
  25. Becketti S. Introduction to time series using Stata. College Station (TX): Stata Press; 2013.
  26. Pew Center on the States. State of recidivism: the revolving door of America’s prisons. Washington (DC): The Pew Charitable Trusts; 2011. Available from:
  27. Baur A. Lähmende Verantwortung. Recht Psychiatr. 2020;38(2).
  28. Clark C, Bales WD, Scaggs S, Ensley D, Coltharp P, Blomberg TG. Assessing the impact of post-release community supervision on post-release recidivism and employment. Washington (DC): U.S. Department of Justice; 2015. Available from:
  29. Jehle J-M, Albrecht H-J, Hohmann-Fricke S, Tetal C. Legalbewährung nach strafrechtlichen Sanktionen. Eine bundesweite Rückfalluntersuchung 2010 bis 2013 und 2004 bis 2013. Berlin (Germany): Bundesministerium der Justiz und für Verbraucherschutz; 2016. German. Available from:
  30. Statistik Austria. Gerichtliche Kriminalstatistik 2016. Vienna (Austria): The Government; 2017. German. Available from:
  31. Tetlock PE, Gardner D. Superforecasting: the art and science of prediction. New York: Penguin Random House; 2016.
  32. Bonta J, Andrews DA. Risk-need-responsivity model for offender assessment and treatment. Ontario (Canada): Public Safety Canada; 2007. Available from:
  33. Fazel S Hayes AJ Bartellas K Clerici M Trestman R. Mental health of prisoners: prevalence, adverse outcomes, and interventions. Lancet Psychiatry. 2016;3(9):871–81. doi:.
  34. Reingle Gonzalez JM Connell NM. Mental health of prisoners: identifying barriers to mental health treatment and medication continuity. Am J Public Health. 2014;104(12):2328–33. doi:.
  35. Council of Europe. Recommendation Rec(2006)2 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the European Prison Rules. Strasbourg (France): The Council; 2006 Jan 11. Available from:
  36. Durcan G, Zwemstra JC. Mental health in prison. In: Enggist S, Møller L, Galea G, Udesen C, editors. Prisons and health. Geneva (Switzerland): World Health Organization; 2014. p. 87–95. Available from:
  37. Mackenzie DL. Sentencing and corrections in the 21st century: setting the stage for the future. College Park (DC): University of Maryland, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Evaluation Research Group; 2001. Available from:
  38. Urbaniok F Rossegger A Endrass J. Can high-risk offenders be reliably identified?: a follow-up study on dangerous offenders in Switzerland released from prison for legal reasons. Swiss Med. Wkly. 2006;136(47–48):761–8. doi:.
  39. European Court of Human Rights. Case of James, Wells and Lee v. the United Kingdom. Strasbourg (France): The court; 2012 Dec 13. Available from:{%22itemid%22:[%22001-113127%22]}.
  40. Report to the Swiss Federal Council on the visit to Switzerland by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) from 13 to 24 April 2015. Strasbourg (France): The Committee; 2006 Jun 23. Available from:
  41. Ægisdóttir S White MJ Spengler PM Maugherman AS Anderson LA Cook RS The meta-analysis of clinical judgment project: fifty-six years of accumulated research on clinical versus statistical prediction. Couns Psychol. 2006;34(3):341–82. doi:.
  42. Campbell MA French S Gendreau P. The prediction of violence in adult offenders: a meta-analytic comparison of instruments and methods of assessment. Crim Justice Behav. 2009;36(6):567–90. doi:.
  43. Hanson RK Morton-Bourgon KE. The accuracy of recidivism risk assessments for sexual offenders: a meta-analysis of 118 prediction studies. Psychol Assess. 2009;21(1):1–21. doi:.
  44. Zara G, Farrington DP. Criminal recidivism: explanation, prediction and prevention. Abingdon (England): Routledge; 2016.

Most read articles by the same author(s)