Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Potential Criminals Can Be Deterred By Longer Sentences, Study Suggests

Date:
May 19, 2009
Source:
University of Chicago Press Journals
Summary:
Can prison sentences deter potential criminals? A new study suggests that in certain circumstances, they can.

Deterrence is often a stated goal of criminal sentencing guidelines, but there is debate about whether the threat of punishment actually discourages people from committing crimes. A new study published in the Journal of Political Economy sheds some empirical light on the question of deterrence. Using a recently passed Italian law as a natural experiment, the study found that former prisoners are less likely to return to jail if they expect longer sentences for future crimes.

Related Articles


"This paper contributes to the literature providing evidence that potential criminals do respond to a change in prison sentences," write study authors Francesco Drago (University of Naples Parthenope), Roberto Galbiati (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris) and Pietro Vertova (University of Bergamo).

Passed in 2006, Italy's Collective Clemency Bill presents a unique opportunity to study the deterrent effect of prison sentences, the authors say. Crime rates often drop when criminal penalties are increased. But it's often hard to tell if the rates go down because the threat of longer sentences deters potential criminals, or if the drop happens because actual criminals are physically removed from the street for longer periods. This study of the clemency law's effects eliminates the latter scenario, measuring only deterrent effect.

When the clemency bill was passed, it immediately released thousands of prisoners who had three years or less left on their sentences. The remainder of each prisoner's sentence was suspended, but not forgiven. The law stipulated that a former inmate who commits a new crime within five years will have the suspended portion of his sentence reinstated and added to the sentence for the new crime. As a result, a repeat offender can expect extra jail time equal to the suspended portion of his sentence—anywhere from one month to three years.

Using government data, the researchers looked at the recidivism rates of these former inmates for the first seven months after their release. They found that those with longer suspended sentences—and therefore longer expected sentences for new crimes—were less likely to be re-arrested than those with shorter suspended sentences.

"These results corroborate the general theory of deterrence," the authors write. According to their calculations, "increasing the expected sentence by 50 percent should reduce recidivism rates by about 35 percent in seven months."

But even a small increase in the expected sentence was enough to deter recidivism at least a little, the team found. The data suggest that a one month increase in expected sentence resulted in a 1.3 percent lower probability of returning to prison.

The deterrent effect was consistent across age groups, and among men and women, though 95 percent of the sample was male.

"This means that a policy a commuting actual sentences in expected sentences significantly reduces recidivism," Dr. Vertova says. "A mass release of prisoners can be effective in reducing their propensity of re-committing crimes if, when a released individual gets convicted of a new crime, his normal sentence is increased by the time that was pardoned because of the early release."

There was one important exception to the deterrent effect, however. Recidivism rates among those whose original crime was more serious were essentially unaffected by the length of their suspended sentence. That finding suggests that "more dangerous inmates are not deterred," the authors write.

The researchers also caution that their results only measure deterrence on those who have already served time in jail. "Indeed, it is not clear whether these results can be to individuals who have never received prison treatment."

Despite the limitations, however, the study does provide real-world evidence that "individuals vary their criminal activity in response to a change in prison sentences," the authors write.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Chicago Press Journals. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Drago et al. The Deterrent Effects of Prison: Evidence from a Natural Experiment. Journal of Political Economy, 2009; 117 (2): 257 DOI: 10.1086/599286

Cite This Page:

University of Chicago Press Journals. "Potential Criminals Can Be Deterred By Longer Sentences, Study Suggests." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 May 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090518111726.htm>.
University of Chicago Press Journals. (2009, May 19). Potential Criminals Can Be Deterred By Longer Sentences, Study Suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 28, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090518111726.htm
University of Chicago Press Journals. "Potential Criminals Can Be Deterred By Longer Sentences, Study Suggests." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090518111726.htm (accessed January 28, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Science & Society News

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

City Divided: A Look at Model Schools in the TDSB

City Divided: A Look at Model Schools in the TDSB

The Toronto Star (Jan. 27, 2015) — Model schools are rethinking how they engage with the community to help enhance the lives of the students and their parents. Video provided by The Toronto Star
Powered by NewsLook.com
More Guns Found in Carry-on Bags at US Airports

More Guns Found in Carry-on Bags at US Airports

AP (Jan. 27, 2015) — The Transportation Security Administration says officers discovered 2,212 firearms during safety screenings last year, a 22 percent jump over 2013. (Jan. 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
WikiLeaks Accuses Google of Handing Over Emails to US

WikiLeaks Accuses Google of Handing Over Emails to US

AFP (Jan. 27, 2015) — Whistleblowing site WikiLeaks accused Google of handing over the emails and electronic data of its senior staff to the US authorities without providing notification until almost three years later. Duration: 01:09 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Storm Slams New England, Spares Mid-Atlantic

Storm Slams New England, Spares Mid-Atlantic

AP (Jan. 27, 2015) — A howling blizzard with wind gusts over 70 mph heaped snow on Boston along with other stretches of lower New England and Long Island on Tuesday, but failed to live up to the hype in Philadelphia and New York City. (Jan. 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Science & Society

Business & Industry

Education & Learning

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins