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Chan et al.

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This is an accepted manuscript version of an article published in the


journal: International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative

Criminology

Copyright to the final published article belongs to SAGE.

Chan, H. C. O., Lo, T. W., Zhong, L. Y., & Chui, W. H. (2013). Criminal recidivism of
incarcerated male nonviolent offenders in Hong Kong. International Journal of
Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology. Advance online publication.
doi: 10.1177/0306624X13502965

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Criminal Recidivism of Incarcerated Male Nonviolent


Offenders in Hong Kong
Heng Choon (Oliver) Chan1, T. Wing Lo1, Lena Y. Zhong1, and
Wing Hong Chui2
1
2

City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon, Hong Kong


The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Abstract
Criminal recidivism of the incarcerated population in Hong Kong has rarely been
studied. The purpose of this study is to explore the recidivism rates and to identify
significant predictors of reoffending among incarcerated male offenders convicted of
a nonviolent offense in Hong Kong. Using a self-reported methodological design,
278 offenders are sampled. These offenders immediate past incarceration is used as
the benchmark for this recidivism study. The 1-, 2-, and 3-year recidivism rates are
21%, 68%, and 87%, respectively. The findings denote that offending history,
psychological attributes, interpersonal relationships, and environmental influences
are significant reoffending risk factors. These findings, especially the alarming failure
rates, highlight the need to seriously assess the effectiveness of intervention
strategies used by the Hong Kong correctional system in preventing future offending.
Implications for intervention strategies with emphasis on the risk factors for
recidivism are discussed.

Keywords
Recidivism, reoffending, risk factors, nonviolent offenders, reincarceration, Hong
Kong Chinese

Corresponding Author:
Heng Choon (Oliver) Chan, Department of Applied Social Studies, City University of
Hong Kong, Tat Chee Avenue, Hong Kong.
Email: oliverchan.ss@cityu.edu.hk

This is an accepted manuscript version of an article published in International Journal of Offender


Therapy and Comparative Criminology. The copyright of this article is reserved by SAGE.

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Introduction
Increasing attention has been placed on issues related to offenders propensity for
reoffending, specifically with emphasis on criminal desistance (see e.g., Farrall &
Calverley, 2006; Laub & Sampson, 2001). This criminological issue about offending,
including nonviolent offenses, is also an important one in Hong Kong. According to
the official statistics, 62,836 nonviolent offenses were reported in 2011, most of them
(56%) being theft-related offenses (Hong Kong Police Force, 2012). This trend has
been relatively consistent over the past five years (Hong Kong Police Force, 20072011). According to the Hong Kong Correctional Services Department (2012), as of
December 2011, a total of 9,190 adult males and 831 young men aged 21 years and
under were imprisoned. In addition to nonviolent offenders, these numbers include
those who were incarcerated for a violent offense.
Within the last decade, empirical studies that sampled Hong Kong
incarcerated offenders have been scarce, let alone those that focus only on offenders
who were imprisoned for a nonviolent offense. Most published work focused on the
general operational functions of and services provided by the correctional services
(e.g., Jones & Vagg, 2007; Laidler, 2009; Lo, 2008; Lo, Wong, Chui, Zhong, & Senior,
2010; Tam & Heng, 2008), assistance provided to the inmates by volunteers (e.g.,
Chui & Cheng, 2012, 2013), and ex-inmates accounts of their imprisonment
experience (e.g., Adorjan & Chui, 2011; Chui, 2005). No study attempted to examine
the reoffending rate or risk factors of offenders, incarcerated for a nonviolent offense.
This study attempts to investigate the recidivism rate and risk factors of this often
overlooked incarcerated offender group. Prior to the discussion of this study, an
overview of the Hong Kong correctional services and factors associated with offender
recidivism are presented.

An Overview of the Hong Kong Correctional Services Department


Since 1997, Hong Kong has been a special administrative region (SAR) under the
ruling of the Peoples Republic of China. It has been regarded as having one of the
lowest crime rates among developed cities or territorial regions. Contrary to
criminologists predictions that crime rates would be likely to soar after its handover
to the Chinese sovereignty by the British government in 1997 (Traver, 2009), Hong
Kong has evidenced a relatively low crime rate (1,081 per 100,000 in 2010) when
compared with other developed cities such as Tokyo (1,640 per 100,000) or New York
(2,257 per 100,000; Hong Kong Police Force, 2012). In view of such an arguably low
crime trend, the effort put in by the correctional system cannot be understated. In
Hong Kong, the Correctional Services Department (CSD) operates 24 correctional
institutions scattered throughout Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, the New Territories,
and outlying islands.
In addition to the discipline aspect of the correctional institutions,
rehabilitation is also emphasized (Laidler, 2009). Similar to the Hong Kong probation
system (Chan & Chui, 2012; Chui & Chan, 2011a, 2011b, 2012a), the CSD consistently

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maintained the rehabilitative ideal of imprisonment even when it became


discredited in the West (Jones & Vagg, 2007, p. 597). The motto we care adopted
by the CSD has further underscored its commitment to instill rehabilitative
components in offender custody (Laidler, 2009). Hence, five units under its
Rehabilitation Division hav been established to offer rehabilitative programs for the
inmates: (a) Rehabilitation Unit (Assessment Services), (b) Education Unit, (c)
Industries and Vocational Training Section, (d) Psychological Services Section, and (e)
Rehabilitation Unit (Welfare and Counseling Services). As part of their training for
eventual community reintegration upon release, inmates are assigned to an
assortment of daily tasks, which include, among others, manufacturing and laundry
work that are fashioned to the current labor market (Laidler, 2009).

Static and Dynamic Risk Factors of Recidivism


An important objective of the correctional function of criminal justice systems is to
reduce the risk of offender recidivism. For this reason, risk factors for reoffending
should be identified and attempts made to interven with them. In order for an
intervention strategy to be effective, it is argued that it should follow the human
service principles of risk-need-responsivity (RNR) and professional discretion
(Andrew & Bonta, 2003; Andrew, Bonta, & Wormith, 2006). There are two primary
types of risk factors: static and dynamic factors. Simply put, static factors are
characteristics that are immutable, whereas dynamic factors are attributes that are
responsive to change (Bonta, 1996) through rehabilitative and therapeutic
interventions (Resnick, Ireland, & Borowski, 2004; van der Put, Stam, Hoeve, Dekovi,
Spanjaard, van der Laan, et al., 2012). These factors can be further subdivided into
individual- and environmental-level risk factors.
Static risk factors at the individual level include gender, intelligence,
neuropsychological attributes (Vermeiren, de Clippele, Schwab-Stone, Ruchkin, &
Deboutte, 2002; Vermeiren, Schwab-Stone, Ruchkin, de Clippele, & Deboutte, 2002),
type of offense committed, number of prior convictions (Archwamety & Katsiyannis,
1998; Chui & Chan, 2012a; Katsiyannis & Archwamety, 1997; Jung & Rawana, 1999;
Lattimore, Visher, & Linster, 1995), onset age of delinquent behavior, age of first
adjudication, and intensity of criminal careers (Ang & Huan, 2008; Cottle, Lee, &
Heilbrun, 2001; Dean, Brame, & Piquero, 1996; Loeber & Farrington, 1998; Loeber,
Farrington, Stouthamer-Loeber, & Raskin White, 2008; Vermeiren, de Clippele, &
Deboutte, 2000). Static environmental risk factors, conversely, include parental abuse
and neglect, and conflicts with parents (Benda & Tollet, 1999; Piquero, Brame, &
Moffitt, 2005).
In contrast, dynamic individual risk factors include personality dispositions
(e.g., high impulsivity, high negative emotionality, weaker social bond, and high prooffending attitudes; Caspi, Moffitt, Stouthamer-Loeber, Krueger, & Schmutte, 1994;
Ge, Donnellan, & Wenk, 2003; Krueger, Schmutte, Caspi, Moffitt, Campell, & Silva,
1994; Nagin & Tremblay, 1999; Willis & Grace, 2009), psychopathological attributes

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(e.g., conduct and antisocial personality disorders, and psychopathic traits; Das, 2008;
Katsiyannis, Zhang, Barrett, & Flaska, 2004; Kotler & McMahon, 2005; van Dam,
Janssens, & De Bruyn, 2004; Vermeiren, Jespers, & Moffitt, 2005; Walters, 2003) and
substance use (Abnernathy, Massad, & Romano-Dwyer, 1995; Ford, 2005). Dynamic
environmental risk factors includes parental criminality (Hagell & Newburn, 1996),
criminal peers, residing in a disadvantaged neighborhood, and influences from a
poor economic and social environment (Kubrin & Stewart, 2006; Mennis & Harris,
2011; Oberwittler, 2004; Pardini, Obradovic, & Loeber, 2006; Rankin & Quane, 2000).

Research Questions
This study aims to explore the common recidivism risk factors for offenders who
were previously incarcerated (i.e., repeat offenders). The study of recidivism of
convicted offenders has been lacking in Hong Kong. To the authors knowledge, only
one recidivism study has been published with a Hong Kong sample within the last
decade. In Chui and Chans (2012a) study, a group of 92 male juvenile probationers
(aged 14 to 20 years) were examined for their recidivism rate within a six-month
follow-up period. A 30% recidivism rate was recorded within the six-month period,
with 82% and 18% re-adjudicated for a nonviolent and violent offense, respectively.
Several reoffending predictors were identified: negative affect, self-perceived life
problems, and self-esteem. Besides this study, no other research effort on this topic
has been conducted in Hong Kong. Hence, the general purpose of this study is to
extend the empirical efforts in this area by exploring the recidivism rate and risk
factors of incarcerated offenders who were incarcerated for a nonviolent offense. In
this study, the term offender recidivism is referred as offender reincarceration.
The series of questions of particular importance to the current study were as follows:
Research Question 1: How many of these incarcerated offenders were
recidivists?
Research Question 2: What is their reoffending rate?
Research Question 3: What are their common recidivism risk factors?

Time to nonviolent recidivism


Past studies have found that most offenders who recidivated typically reoffend within
the first year after their release, but the recidivism rate continues to increase in the
first five to eight years upon release (Mulder, Brand, Bullens, & van Marle, 2011). Of
note, many studies have indicated higher reoffending rates with nonviolent offenders
over a three-year period. More interestingly, a number of studies have reported
higher rates of recidivism among nonviolent offenders than other groups of
offenders (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2002; McCoy & Miller, 2013; Washington State
Sentencing Guideline Commission, 2005). For instance, the Bureau of Justice Statistics
(2002) found an 80% recidivism rate for property offenders over a three-year

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assessment period. McCoy and Miller (2013), on the other hand, reported that 52%
of male and 48% of female nonviolent offenders were rearrested an average of two
years after release, with the most common recidivistic offense being drug offenses.

Method
Participants and Procedure
From the twenty-four Hong Kong correctional institutions that include drug
addiction treatment centers, rehabilitation centers, training centers, detention centers,
and prisons, 12 institutions were selected randomly using a computerized
randomization process. The selected institutions were located in different
geographical regions: Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, New Territories, and the outlying
islands. The participants in this study were 278 incarcerated male offenders convicted
of a nonviolent offense. To explore the reincarceration dynamics of the imprisoned
offenders, all participants sampled were recidivists who were previously imprisoned.
Specifically, participants recruited were those have been re-admitted to the CSD
institutions within five years of their prior release. These participants were surveyed
once and were asked to recall information over a three-year period.
Following approval from both the CSD and universitys institutional review
board (IRB), the participants informed consent was acquired with no financial
rewards or benefit in other forms (e.g., reduction in incarceration term, additional
daily recreational time). For those under the age of 18, in addition to their personal
consent parental consent was also sought. Importantly, their participation in this
study was completely voluntary. An average response rate of 75% was obtained. The
recruitment process was assisted by the personnel of the CSD by seeking the
participants initial willingness to partake in this study. Anonymous paper/pencil
questionnaires were administered to consenting participants. Participants were
assured that their responses would be kept confidential and used only for this study.
Questionnaires were administered to a group of four to 10 participants at a time by
two trained research assistants (RAs). Both RAs had an academic background in
behavioral sciences and were trained to administer the questionnaire in a consistent
manner. Discussion among participants regarding the questionnaire content was
prohibited during the survey administration. An average of 20 minutes was used by
the participants to complete the questionnaire.

Demographic Characteristics of the Sample


Out of the total participants who aged between 17 and 75 years (M = 34.81, SD =
12.07), nearly 59% were young adults between 21 and 40 years (refer to Table 1).
Pertaining to the type of nonviolent offense committed, nearly two-thirds of them
were convicted of a nonproperty offense (e.g., drug-related and financial crimes).
About 60% of the participants were unmarried at the time of the data collection and
about 74% of them were at least secondary school educated. Roughly 41% of them

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were found to have at least six previous convictions, with an average of 6.85
convictions (SD = 6.15). Their average age prior release was 32.80 years (SD = 12.29),
with most (53%) aged between 21 and 40 years. Interestingly, more than two-thirds
(72%) of the participants claimed themselves to be an active triad member.
Table 1. Sample demographic characteristics (N = 278).
Variable

Percentage

Age group (N = 275)


17 to 20 years old
21 to 40 years old
41 to 60 years old
61 years and above

35
161
72
7

12.7%
58.5%
26.2%
2.6%

Type of crime committed (N = 278)


Nonviolent property crime
Nonviolent nonproperty crime

98
180

35.3%
64.7%

Marital status (N = 274)


Single
Married
Separated/Divorced
Widowed

163
76
31
4

59.5%
27.7%
11.3%
1.5%

Highest educational level (N = 275)


Primary school or below
Secondary school
Vocational training
University or above

73
187
11
4

26.5%
68.0%
4.0%
1.5%

Number of prior conviction (N = 272)


1 to 5 convictions
6 to 10 convictions
11 to 15 convictions
16 convictions and above

160
65
26
21

58.8%
23.9%
9.6%
7.7%

Age of prior release (N = 278)


20 years and below
21 to 40 years
41 to 60 years
61 years and above

57
148
66
7

20.5%
53.2%
23.7%
2.5%

Self-proclaimed triad member (N = 264)


Yes
No

190
74

72.0%
28.0%

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Measures
For the purpose of this study, criminal recidivism was operationally defined as
reoffending that eventually resulted in conviction and incarceration. Official
recidivism by a different time period of interest served as the binary outcome
variable (i.e., 0 = not reincarcerated, 1 = reincarcerated). Aside from examining the
reincarceration rate of imprisoned nonviolent offenders in Hong Kong 1, a number of
static (e.g., offending history) and dynamic factors (e.g., psychological attributes,
interpersonal attachment and relationship, and situational criminogenic influences)
were explored to uncover potential risk factors of recidivism for offenders who
commit nonviolent offenses. A number of scales were constructed to assess the
participants psychological attributes (i.e., pro-offending attitudes, impulsivity, and
negative self-perception), attachment or relationship with others (i.e., familial
detachment, deviant peer attachment, and general prosocial attachment deficiency),
and potential exposure to criminogenic circumstances (i.e., domestic and community
criminogenic exposures), in addition to questions asking for the participants
demographic information and offending history. Items of these scales were
measured on a 4-point Likert response format (1 = strongly disagree; 4 = strongly
agree)2. Of note, no significant mean differences were found in these measures
between participants who were convicted of a property and nonproperty offense.

Pro-offending attitudes (Cronbachs = 0.78). In this study, nine items were used
to assess the participants general attitudes towards offending. The overall score was
the sum of all nine items (ranging from 9 to 36), with a higher pro-offending
attitudes score denoting a higher favorable attitude towards offending. Sample items
include, Crime allows me to get things that I want and Committing crime is
exciting and rewarding. Participants in this study were averagely scored 19.38 for
this scale (SD = 4.13).

Impulsivity (Cronbachs = 0.51). The participants impulsivity was measured in two


items: I cannot control my impulses and I cannot resist temptation. The total
score ranged from two to eight points, with a higher score indicating greater
impulsivity. The alpha coefficient of this measure was below the acceptable level of
0.70 (see Cronbach, 1951). However, the alpha estimate should be interpreted
cautiously given that the Cronbachs mainly measures the interrelatedness of the
items (Sijtsma, 2009). Besides, a low internal consistency estimate could partly due
to the highly skewed distributions of included items as this reduces the size of the
correlation between items and therefore also the alpha (Straus & Kantor, 2005, p.
25). Importantly, Cronbachs is dependent not only on the magnitude of the
correlations among items, but also on the number of items (Streiner & Norman,
1989, p. 64). The participants scored an average point of 4.93 ( SD = 1.31) in
impulsivity.

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Negative self-perception (Cronbachs = 0.88). Nine items were utilized to assess


the participants negative perceptions of themselves. The overall score of this
measure was determined by summing the scores of all items, which ranged from
nine to 36 points. A higher score denotes higher negative observation or perception
of themselves. Sample items include, I am a victim of this unjust world and Society
will not accept offenders like me. The participants scored an average 20.68 points
(SD = 5.31).

Familial detachment (Cronbachs = 0.79). A measure that consists of four items


was used to assess the participants lack of positive (or poor) attachment and
relationship with their family members. The overall score of this measure ranged
from four to 16 points, with a higher score indicating poor attachment and
relationship with their family members. Sample items include, I often have conflicts
with my family and My family did not and will not support me. An average point of
8.79 (SD = 2.56) was found among the participants.

Deviant peer attachment (Cronbachs = 0.69). The participants attachment with


delinquent and deviant peers was measured with 4 items in this study. The sum of all
these items ranged from four to 16 points. A higher point in this measure denotes
greater attachment with and influence from delinquent and deviant peers. Sample
items include, Most of my friends are criminals and Most of my friends are
associated with triad societies. The participants scored an average point of 9.31 ( SD
= 2.58).

General prosocial attachment deficiency (Cronbachs = 0.76). In order to assess


the participants overall lack of prosocial attachment with others, three items were
used. The sum of all items ranged from three to 12 points, with a higher score
indicating greater absence of prosocial attachment with other individuals. Sample
items include, There is no individual that I can trust and I do not have anyone that
can share my problems. On average, the participants scored 6.53 points (SD = 2.11).

Domestic criminogenic exposure (Cronbachs = 0.74). Two items were utilized to


assess the participants exposure to criminal behavior within their family setting: I
am aware of the criminal activities of my family members and I am aware of the
drug-taking habits of my family members. The total score of this measure ranged
from two to eight points, with a higher score indicating greater criminality exposure
and influence from their family members. The participants averagely scored 2.80
points (SD = 1.22).

Community criminogenic exposure (Cronbachs = 0.85). To assess the criminality


influence from the participants community, 3 items were used: I am living in a
community full of triad members, I am aware of the many opportunities to commit
crime in the community where I am currently staying, and Crimes are regularly

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occurred in my community. The sum of score ranged from three to 12 points, with a
higher score denoting greater criminality exposure within the participants residential
community. On average, the participants scored 7.22 points (SD = 2.07).

Analytic strategy
In this study, several statistical analyses were performed. Pearson correlations were
used to examine the inter-relationships of different constructs. Logistic regression
was performed using the sample of 278 incarcerated male offenders convicted of a
nonviolent offense to identify the predictors of recidivism risk within the first-,
second-, and third-year following release. The offenders incarceration upon
reconviction was their recidivism indicator. Participants were included in different
tested time-point models according to their respective recidivism time-point. To
illustrate, 58 participants were included in the first time-point model (i.e., reincarcerated within one year postrelease), 188 participants in the second time-point
model (i.e., re-incarcerated within 2 years postrelease), and 243 participants in the
final time-point model (i.e., re-incarcerated within 3 years postrelease). Of note,
despite the number of previous imprisonment, the offenders immediate past
conviction that led to incarceration was used as the benchmark for the analyses of
their recidivism rates and risk factors. Static (i.e., number of prior conviction and age
of prior release) and dynamic (i.e., pro-offending attitudes, impulsivity, negative selfperception, familial detachment, deviant peer attachment, general prosocial
attachment deficiency, domestic criminogenic exposure, and community
criminogenic exposure) factors as independent variables were entered in three
multivariate analytic models. Pearson correlations of the tested constructs were
computed and findings did not reveal any correlations at or above 0.70, indicating no
collinearity.

Results
Offending History, Psychological Characteristics, Interpersonal Relationships,
and Criminogenic Exposures
Table 2 presents the inter-scale relationship of different constructs of interest: two
offending history constructs (i.e., number of prior conviction and age of prior release),
three psychological characteristics (i.e., pro-offending attitudes, impulsivity, and
negative self-perception), three interpersonal attachment constructs (i.e., familial
detachment, deviant peer attachment, and general prosocial attachment deficiency),
and two criminogenic exposure constructs (i.e., domestic criminogenic exposure and
community criminogenic exposure). Significantly, the offenders number of prior
convictions and age at time of prior release were positively correlated with their
negative self-perception (r = 0.24 and r = 0.28, p < .01), familial detachment (r = 0.21
and r = 0.19, p < .01), and general prosocial attachment deficiency (r = 0.24 and r =
0.25, p < .01), respectively. Interestingly, all psychological characteristics,

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interpersonal attachment, and criminogenic exposure constructs were significantly


and positively inter-correlated, with the strength of the correlational effects ranging
from 0.24 to 0.67 (p < .01).
Table 2. Pearson correlations of the observed indicators of convicted offenders of
nonviolent property and nonproperty crime (N = 278).
Indicators

NC

Number of prior
conviction (NC)
Age of prior release
(AR)
Pro-offending
attitudes (PO)
Impulsivity (IP)
Negative selfperception (NS)
Familial detachment
(FD)
Deviant peer
attachment (DP)
Attachment
deficiency (AD)
Domestic
criminogenic (DC)
Community
criminogenic (CC)

1.00

AR

PO

IP

NS

FD

DP

AD

DC

CC

0.49** 1.00
0.12

0.07

1.00

0.12
0.03
0.53** 1.00
0.24** 0.28** 0.58** 0.41** 1.00
0.21** 0.19** 0.43** 0.38** 0.59** 1.00
0.07

-0.05

0.57** 0.50** 0.56** 0.47** 1.00

0.24** 0.25** 0.43** 0.24** 0.55** 0.67** 0.38** 1.00


0.11

0.08

0.41** 0.23** 0.28** 0.31** 0.42** 0.27** 1.00

0.07

0.02

0.52** 0.45** 0.50** 0.37** 0.59** 0.25** 0.32** 1.00

** p < .01

Offending History and Reincarceration Rates


The offenders number of prior convictions and age at prior release, and their oneyear, two-year, and three-year reconviction rates were examined for their interindicator relationships (refer to Table 3). The offenders age at prior release was
positively related with their number of prior convictions (r = 0.49, p < .01).
Surprisingly, only the offenders number of prior convictions was positively correlated
with their reconviction rate within the first- (r = 0.06, p < .05), second- (r = 0.16, p
< .01), and third-year (r = 0.09, p < .05) upon release.

Identifying the Reincarceration Risk Factors of Nonviolent Offenders


Table 4 presents the findings of three logistic regression models with the odds ratios
(ORs) whereby reincarceration, at different time periods, is the predicted outcome. In
this study, adjusted ORs were computed, exp(B) 1 X 100 = adjusted OR, to report
the statistically significant effects on the percentage change in the odds. In terms of
the offenders criminal background, their number of prior conviction was found to be
the only significant predictor of their reoffending risk. To illustrate, when a unit

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increased in the number of prior convictions, the offenders odds of reincarceration


was increased by 6% within two years and 10% within three years upon their release.
The offenders negative self-perception and impulsivity were found to be significant
psychological attribute predictors of their reincarceration risk. Unexpectedly, every
one-unit increase in the offenders negative self-perception resulted in the odds of
reoffending that led to reincarceration decreasing by 9% within the first year, and
14% within the second and third year upon release. In contrast, the odds of the
offenders being re-incarcerated within three years following release was increased by
47% if they were impulsive.
In relation to the offenders relationship with others in predicting their
recidivism risk, when the offenders were lacking positive attachment with their
families, the odds of their being re-incarcerated within the first year following release
increased by 20%. Besides, the odds of the offenders being re-incarcerated within
two years after release were found to increase by 21% and 20% when they were
associated with deviant peers and absence of prosocial attachment with others,
respectively. Pertaining to the situational recidivism risk factors, when the offenders
were exposed to criminogenic incidents within their community, the odds of
reoffending and eventually to be re-incarcerated increased by 34% within the third
year upon release. However, unexpectedly, every one-unit increase in the offenders
exposure to criminogenic incidents within their family resulted in the odds of their
reincarceration decreasing by 40% within three years upon release.
Overall, chi-square analyses of these 3 testing models indicated significant
models fit (2 = 20.69, p < .05 for Model I, 2 = 32.01, p < .001 for Model II, and 2 =
24.72, p < .01 for Model III). The Hosmer-Lemeshow Test (Hosmer & Lemeshow,
2000) of all models also suggested no difficulties with the fit model. The area under
the curve (AUC) of the receiver operating characteristics (ROC) yielded values of 0.71
for Model I, 0.72 for Model II, and 0.69 for Model III, suggesting that all these models
reached an adequate level of predictability, specificity, and sensitivity (see Kleinbaum
& Klein, 2010).
Table 3. Pearson correlations of the observed indicators (N = 278).
Indicators

NC

AR

1YR

Number of prior conviction (NC)


Age of prior release (AR)
1-year reconviction rate (1YR)
2-year reconviction rate (2YR)
3-year reconviction rate (3YR)

1.00
0.49**
0.06*
0.16**
0.09*

1.00
-0.02
0.10
0.01

1.00
0.36** 1.00
0.20** 0.55** 1.00

* p < .05, ** p < .01

2YR

3YR

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Table 4. Logistic regression of convicted offenders 1-year, 2-year, and 3-year official recidivism rates (N = 278).
Predictor variables

Model I (1-year recidivism)


B
SE
OR
LCI, UCI

Model II (2-year recidivism)


B
SE
OR
LCI, UCI

Model III (3-year recidivism)


B
SE
OR
LCI, UCI

Number of prior
conviction
Age of prior release
Pro-offending attitudes
Impulsivity
Negative self-perception
Familial detachment
Deviant peer attachment
Prosocial attachment
deficiency
Domestic criminogenic
exposure
Community criminogenic
exposure
2 log likelihood
Model chi-square
HosmerLemeshow test
Nagelkerke R2
AUC

0.03 0.03

0.06 0.03

0.09 0.05

-0.01
-0.07
0.20
-0.09
0.18
0.05
0.17

0.02
0.06
0.15
0.05
0.10
0.09
0.11

0.24 0.14
-0.10

0.11

1.03

0.97, 1.09

0.99
0.93
1.22
0.91*
1.20*
1.06
1.19

0.96, 1.02
0.83, 1.04
0.90, 1.65
0.83, 1.01
1.00, 1.45
0.87, 1.26
0.96, 1.47

0.02
-0.04
0.15
-0.15
0.06
0.19
0.18

0.01
0.05
0.13
0.04
0.08
0.08
0.10

1.02 0.99, 1.05


0.97 0.88, 1.06
1.16 0.89, 1.51
0.86*** 0.79, 0.94
1.06 0.90, 1.25
1.21* 1.03, 1.42
1.20* 0.98, 1.46

-0.01
-0.07
0.39
-0.15
0.01
-0.02
0.23

1.27

0.96, 1.69

-0.09

0.13

0.91

0.70, 1.18

-0.51

0.91

0.74, 1.12

0.12 0.09

1.12

0.94, 1.34

258.58
20.69*
2 (8) = 9.81, p = .28
0.11
0.71

1.06*

1.00, 1.13

308.95
32.01** *
2 (8) = 4.46, p = .81
0.11
0.72

Note: Odds ratio (OR), lower confidence interval (LCI), upper confidence interval (UCI).
* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001

1.10*

0.99, 1.21

0.02
0.07
0.20
0.06
0.11
0.12
0.15

1.00
0.94
1.47*
0.86*
1.01
0.98
1.26

0.96, 1.04
0.82, 1.07
1.00, 2.16
0.76, 0.97
0.81, 1.26
0.77, 1.24
0.94, 1.70

0.18

0.60** 0.43, 0.86

0.31 0.13

1.34*

1.05, 1.75

180.24
24.72**
2 (8) = 9.52, p = .30
0.16
0.69

Chan et al.

P a g e | 14

Discussion
This study is important in not only in contributing to the repertoire of knowledge
from an empirical perspective, but also informing the field practitioners of the
findings in order facilitate the development of correctional criminology in Hong Kong.
Perhaps, these findings may be of practical utility in other countries as well.
Particularly, this study of recidivism was substantial for at least two reasons. First,
identification of key risk factors specific to the reincarceration of nonviolent
offenders is critical for intervention planning to prevent future criminal behavior
(Harland, 1996), whereby evidence indicates that programs and services targeting
specific reoffending risk factors are five times more effective than those without an
adequate conceptual model (Izzo & Ross, 1990). Second, according to Duncan et al.
(1995), identification of reoffending risk factors could help to determine the
suitability in the placement in different intervention programs based on the
differential criminogenic needs of the offenders. Evidence suggests that dynamic risk
factors are likely to reduce as age increases, which denotes the importance of early
intervention (van der Put, Dekovi, Stams, van der Laan, Hoeve, & van Amelsfort,
2011).
Overall, the findings indicate that the effect of dynamic risk factors appeared
to be more dominant in determining the propensity to reoffend that led to the
reincarceration among this group of nonviolent offenders. Interestingly, a display of
positive self-perception was considered to be a significant predictor of recidivism
across three tested time points. Unexpectedly, this result was inconsistent with many
past studies. Positive self-perception or evaluation in this context could be referred
to as having a high self-esteem. Existing literature indicates that low self-esteem
predicts offending persistency (e.g., Benda, 2001; Caspi, et al., 1994; Krueger, et al.,
1994). Perhaps, the finding of this study could be explicated from a cognitive model
of offending behavior. Baumeister (1997) reasoned that offending behavior is likely
to result from an inflated sense of self-esteem or grandiosity as part of the macho
cover-up of the individuals embarrassment or low self-esteem (see also Walker &
Bright, 2009). This phenomenon has been evidenced more in relation to violent
behavior (e.g., Beck, 1999; Gillespie, 2005; Salmivalli, 2001). Furthermore, an
acceptance of offending behavior, particularly with violence, was also found to be
associated with a false consensus that validates offending behavior as a response to
the strength of insult or humiliation imposed by others, which possibly falsely inflate
the level of self-esteem (Walker, 2005; Walker & Gudjonsson, 2006).
Additionally, substantial differences in risk factors were observed in the
participants reoffending predictors based on different time periods. In line with the
extant literature of the importance of positive family relationship in reducing the
recidivism risk (e.g., Benda & Tollett, 1999; Watt, Howells, & Delfabbro, 2004),
participants who were having a poor attachment and social bonding with their family
were in higher likelihood to reoffend and be re-incarcerated within a 12-month
period upon release when they need close support to help them reintegrate into the
community. Those who re-incarcerated for an offense committed up to 2 years

Chan et al.

P a g e | 15

subsequent to release, on the other hand, were found to have a weaker prosocial
attachment pattern as indicated by closely associated with deviant peers and a lack
of prosocial relationship with others. These predictive factors for reoffending were
also previously reported (e.g., Dishion, McCord, & Poulin, 1999; Mennis & Harris,
2011). These findings are substantially in line with Hirschis (1969) social control
theory, which essentially maintains that delinquent and criminal behavior occurs
because of weak social bonds with conventional society and individuals. Moreover,
continuing differential association or social interaction with deviant peers was also
asserted to be an important predictor of persistence in offending in Akers (1998)
social learning theory.
However, in the current study relatively different recidivism predictor factors
were observed for offenders who were re-incarcerated within a three-year period. In
addition to impulsivity as a significant predictor of persistent offending, as was
theorized in Gottfredson and Hirschis self-control theory (1990) and consistently
found in other studies (e.g., Miller-Johnson, Coie, MAumary-Gremaud, Lochman, &
Terry, 1999; Nagin & Tremblay, 1999; see Lee & Hinshaw, 2004 for an exception),
environmental influences seemed to be more dominant as indicated by both
domestic and community exposures to criminality. These findings were consistent
with the literature, whereby the familial (e.g., Hagell & Newburn, 1996; Huan, Ang, &
Lim, 2010; Katsiyannis, et al., 2004) and neighborhood (e.g., Kubrin & Steward, 2006;
Mennis, Harris, Obradovic, Izenman, Grunwald, & Lockwood, 2011) effects were
reported to at least partly predict a reoffending propensity. It is notable that the
number of prior convictions was the only significant static recidivism risk factor for
the two- and three-year risk of reoffending. This predictor was also previously
reported (e.g., Andrew & Bonta, 1998; Benda, Corwyn, & Toombs, 2001; Hoge, 1999;
Jung & Rawana, 1999; Lattimore, et al., 1995).
Looking at the reincarceration rates at three different time periods, an
interesting trend emerged. Within a 12-month post-release period, 21% of the
nonviolent offenders were reconvicted and reincarcerated. Compared with other
studies (e.g., a 30% six-month probation violation rate in 92 male juvenile
probationers in a study by Chui & Chan, 2012a; a 31% one-year violent failure rate
found in 618 mentally disordered male inmates by Harris, Rice, & Quinsey, 1993; a
26% recidivism rate in 328 juvenile probationers by Onifade, Davidson, Campbell,
Turke, Malinowski, & Turner, 2008; and a 46% 8-month failure rate found in 104
juvenile offenders by Vermeiren, et al., 2000), this one-year reoffending rate was
arguably low. Perhaps it could be reasoned that it is associated with the nonviolent
nature of the initial index offense. This reincarceration rate increased to 68% within
two years post-release. Interestingly, this reoffending rate was relatively consistent
with the rate found in other comparable studies (e.g., 65.2% rate of recidivism found
in 414 serious violent juvenile offenders by Benda, et al., 2001; a 70.1% failure rate
that excluded misdemeanors and vandalism found in 728 serious juvenile offenders
by Mulder, et al., 2011). Within three years post-release, 87% of the ex-convicts in
this study were reincarcerated. This rate was fairly high compared with other three-

Chan et al.

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year follow-up studies (e.g., a 38.5% failure rate found in 480 male boot campers by
Benda, 2001; a 15% rate of recidivisim and parole violations found in 299
incarcerated juvenile offenders by Katsiyannis, et al., 2004; a 67.5% reoffending rate
found in 272,111 former inmates in 15 states in the United States, with 73.8% of
property offenders by Langan & Levin, 2002). However, readers should be mindful of
different operational definitions of recidivism used in these studies.

Implications of the Findings


Nearly all of the ex-inmates examined in this study were re-incarcerated within three
years subsequent to their release. This high reincarceration rate was documented
despite the nonviolent nature of the offenders initial index offense, although violent
offenders have been found to have a higher risk of recidivism (e.g., Loeber &
Farrington, 2000). Thus, serious concerns should be raised about the operational
purposes and the effectiveness of the Hong Kong correctional services. The current
rehabilitative strategies ought to be strengthened. Ideally, more refined and
evidence-based intervention programs are required tailored to the criminogenic
needs of different offenders.
More efforts need to be attempted to efficiently target incarcerated offenders
reoffending risk factors. The offenders dynamic criminogenic needs should be
prioritized. As evidenced, a number of domains such as the offenders psychological
conditions, interpersonal relationships, and environmental influences are critical in
impacting their propensity to recidivate. None of these domains should be
intervened with separately or individually, as an accumulation of risk factors in
multiple domains increases the probability to not just reoffend, but to behave
criminally in general (Loeber, Slot, & Stouthamer-Loeber, 2008). Thus, all intervention
target areas should be closely monitored concurrently during the process. Although
static risk factors are not amenable to designed change, they should also be
considered when conceptualizing and planning of intervention efforts.
To illustrate, intensive psychological services such as positive psychological
self-development in the areas of consequential thinking patterns, recognition of and
sensitivity to the feelings of others to target the offenders inflated self-esteem, and
interpersonal cognitive problem-solving interventions and anger management that
aim to reduce impulsivity and instantaneous anger or low frustration tolerance
should be tailored made for each offender to meet his distinctive criminogenic needs.
Social skills training should be stressed to foster prosocial relationships with others,
especially with family members. Intervention strategies that focus on healthy family
functioning could help to foster positive familial social bonding, which in turn may
reduce a reoffending propensity aided by family support to desist from offending
(Chan & Chui, 2012, 2013; Chui & Chan, 2011b, 2012a, 2012b, 2013a, 2013b).
Moreover, efforts should be made to raise awareness of peer influence, mainly those
who involved in delinquency (Benda, 2001).

Limitations and Future Research Directions

Chan et al.

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Several cautionary methodological caveats should be noted. This study was


retrospective and cross-sectional in nature. In future research, a prospective
longitudinal design with repeated measures should be considered. By doing so, the
persistence of criminal behavior could be extensively studied. In this study, only a
small group of incarcerated nonviolent offenders was examined. More importantly,
the female population was not sampled in this study. Thus, findings reported here
cannot be generalized to all incarcerated offenders convicted of a nonviolent offense.
For future studies, it will be meaningful to investigate whether the current findings
hold for not just a larger sample of incarcerated nonviolent offenders, but also across
genders. In line with this issue, current findings are limited to the incarcerated
population. Potential differences may be present for those who were initially arrested
but not convicted. Therefore, it will be fruitful to explore the similarities and
differences of these two groups of nonviolent offenders. Moreover, the present study
was limited to the examination of the recidivism profile of nonviolent offenders. The
sample of violent offenders collected in this study was insufficient to perform sound
statistical comparative analyses with nonviolent offenders. Hence, future research
may consider exploring the differences between incarcerated nonviolent and violent
offenders for their potential differential reoffending risk factors.
With regard to the predictive effect of the tested offending history,
psychological correlates, and environmental influences, the effects of these risk
factors were limited by the use of self-reported information. It is noteworthy that
offenders have a predisposition to under-report their criminal behavior and to
normalize their perceived attitudes toward criminal conduct (Breuk, Clauser, Stams,
Slot, & Doreleijers, 2007). However, the use of official data as the benchmark for the
recidivism rate also has an inherent risk of underestimating the actual nature of an
offenders involvement in criminal activities. Their reoffending behaviors are not
always detected, which leads to being under-registered in the official systems (van
der Put, et al., 2011). Thus, future research should consider using both official and
self-reported data to obtain findings with a higher predictive power. Moreover,
current findings were limited with the use of the regression approach in predicting
recidivism outcomes. Other routinely used probabilistic analytic methods such as cox
regression models and survival time to failure models (see Schmidt & Witte, 1988 for
a review) could be considered in future research to produce findings with better
explanatory power. Schmidt and Witte (1989) even suggested the application of
split-population survival time models in studying recidivism. This method is capable
of avoiding the over-prediction of a long-run failure rate, which is a major limitation
in most traditional failure time models.
In summary, these limitations notwithstanding, the current findings have
contributed to an under-researched component of the Hong Kong correctional
system. Findings of this study indicate that the offenders reoffending propensity
accounts for a multitude of risk factors, composed of their offending history,
psychological attributes, interpersonal relationships, and environmental influences.
Importantly, implications for correctional practice from an intervention perspective

Chan et al.

P a g e | 18

and in penal policy making and refinement targeting nonviolent offenders can be
drawn from this study. Current findings also highlighted the importance of postrelease services provided by social service workers for this group of offenders to
prevent potential relapses. The motto of the Hong Kong CSD is to support
rehabilitative offenders for a more inclusive society. Undoubtedly, released inmates
potentially face a number of pressing challenges upon their release, including
locating accommodation, securing employment, receiving follow-up treatment, and
for some, complying with the supervision terms (Kubrin & Steward, 2006). Hence,
resources, services, and amenities from both the correctional postrelease services
and from the community are needed for ex-inmates to successfully reintegrate into
conventional society, and ultimately to desist from criminal conduct.

Notes
1. According to Hong Kong criminal law, nonviolent offending behavior includes
property (e.g., burglary, snatching, pickpocket, shop theft, criminal damage, and
deception) and nonproperty offenses (e.g., vice/brothel keeping, sexual
procuration/abduction, illegal sexual activity, fighting, illegal possession of
weapons, illegal possessions of illegal drugs, resistance to police arrest, admission
of being a member of a triad society, violation of probation order, use of others
identity, and public disorderly conduct). A member of a triad society can be
simply referred to as a member of a Chinese criminal organization or gang.
2. A complete measurement items will be provided upon request made to the
authors.

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P a g e | 19

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