Indirectly, studies have illustrated that recidivism risk can be measured across multiple domains of “quality of life” (QOL). Most studies that consider QOL’s relation to recidivism risk examine individual components of QOL, such as employment, mental health, substance abuse, poverty level, homelessness, social relationships, etc.; however, discussion rarely looks at QOL as the “big picture”. Though many of these studies do not explicitly define variables as QOL factors, the connection can be seen when comparing examined risk factors with the definition of QOL:

“Individuals’ perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns.  It is a broad ranging concept affected in a complex way by the person’s physical health, psychological state, level of independence, social relationships, personal beliefs and their relationship to salient features of their environment (World Health Organization, 1997).”

Not only does this definition include variables examined in relationship with criminal recidivism, but it points out that QOL is a “broad ranging concept”. Other factors that are linked with poor QOL, and are also identified risk factors for recidivism, include: poor social functioning/lack of social supports, low educational attainment, unemployment/lack of steady employment, homelessness, and mental illness (particularly severe or untreated), substance abuse disorders/addictions, and financial difficulties. Factors of QOL, such as leisure/recreation, family/marital, school/work, and substance abuse, are even substantiated as major risk/need factors associated with committing crimes in the commonly known “Risk-Needs-Responsivity Model” .

More and more, specialized approaches and interventions are utilized to target QOL factors. Specialized probation and parole supervision and reentry programs often target mental health, substance use, and other needs –specifically housing, employment, linkages to public assistance and benefits, and more.  Moreover, because there are substantial numbers of persons with mental illness involved in the criminal justice system, addressing QOL should be explored as a potential rehabilitative strategy for this population. Ward et al. (2007) promote a “Good Lives Model” for offender rehabilitation, which is founded on promotion of healthy values and behavior and increased access to resources as means for enhancing QOL. They premise that encouragement of “goods” (a.k.a. positive behavior) can improve QOL factors while also managing and reducing risk of recidivism or criminal activity. Teaching ex-offenders moral and healthy “skills, values, and beliefs” along with linking them to “resources, social supports, and opportunities” may very well reduce his/her likelihood of reoffending. Such a model is comparable with some specialized probation approaches, which include similar objectives in cognitive behavioral therapy as well as referral/linkage to supporting treatments and services.

In sum, while QOL is not often stated as a direct risk factor for criminal recidivism, many areas along the spectrum of QOL are targeted in risk/needs models, and more and more in criminal justice and behavioral health interventions.

For more information related to interventions and models mentioned in this blog: