Avoiding Recidivism of Mentally Ill Perpetrators

Results from an Empirical Study within the Austrian Penitentiary System


  • Monika Stempkowski University of Vienna, Faculty of Law




recidivism rate, mentally ill offender, penitentiary system, custodial measure


Since the year 2000, the number of people who relapsed into crime after having been released from a custodial measure regulated by § 21 para. 2 ACC declined. This study examines the changes and developments leading to this decrease. Quantitative as well as qualitative methods were applied. Two groups were formed, one consisting of former detainees released in the years 2000 and 2001, the other of the former offenders released in 2010 and 2011. A wide-ranging analysis of court and prison files was carried out. Subsequently, qualitative interviews about the result were conducted with judges, prison governors, a parole officer, a psychiatric expert, and representatives of a care center.

The data showed that the decline of the return rate can be traced back to improvements in the expert’s assessment as well as the treatment offered in prison and beyond: for example, detainees released in 2010 or 2011 had gone through a greater number of temporary interruptions of their custody. Furthermore, the courts changed their handling of accompanying measures imposed on the offenders at the time of their release. Especially changes in the treatment of sexual offenders were observed. The data also revealed that the quality of the expert reports assessing the recidivism risk had improved significantly. At the same time, certain areas of improvement were discovered.