Author Paul Nelson
Published November 2015
Report Type Bureau Brief No. 112
Subject Policing; Recidivism / Re-offending
Keywords prolific offending, offence rate, profiling, recidivism, characteristics

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To examine the frequency of contacts (police cautions, youth justice conferences, or finalised court appearances at which one or more offences were proven) with the criminal justice system by offenders in New South Wales; and, to identify prolific offenders and non-prolific offenders (NPO), compare their characteristics, and model their risk of recidivism.


Demographic, criminal history and recidivism data for the cohort of offenders with one or more contacts during 2011 were extracted from BOCSAR’s Re-offending Database. Logistic regression was used to model prolific offending and violent recidivism, Cox regression was used to model time to offence, and negative binomial regression was used to model recidivism rate.


Most offenders in this 2011 cohort had no contacts in the 2 years prior to their index contact. Prolific offenders (defined as offenders with at least four contacts in the past 2 years) comprised 1.7 per cent of the cohort but accounted for 16.8 per cent of the cohort’s contacts in the past 2 years. Males, offenders aged under 18, Indigenous offenders, and offenders who were in prison/detention at their index contact were significantly more likely to be prolific offenders (compared with females, older offenders, non-Indigenous offenders and offenders who were not in prison). The strongest correlates of prolific offending were younger age and CJS contacts in the 8 years prior to the period used to define prolific offending. Prolific offending had a significant but modest impact on all three recidivism outcomes, along with several other factors.


Prolific offenders were found to make a disproportionate contribution to the total volume of offending and recidivism. This is consistent with prior research and suggests that this group warrants intensive intervention. However, much of the variance in recidivism was explained by risk factors other than prolific offending and modifiable risk factors such as drug use were not examined by this study.

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