What Are the Effects of Incarceration on Deterring Crime?

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, about 125,000 people are in the state’s prisons. Around 82,000 are in the jail system. In total, nearly 210,000 people are incarcerated. That’s quite a lot of individuals who have lost their freedom, some rights, and access to friends and family.

The high number of people in California’s prison and jails may be due to the state’s, as well as the nation’s, “tough on crime” approach. Such thinking brought with it many changes to the criminal justice system, such as mandatory minimum incarceration terms, mandatory sentences, and three-strikes laws.

A few of the aims of incarceration are to:

  • Rehabilitate the offender
  • Reduce recidivism
  • Prevent future crime

The rationale behind changes to penalties for offenses was that it would create a safer society. If people knew they faced harsh penalties, they wouldn’t commit crimes. Additionally, if they did get sent to jail or prison, they wouldn’t be able to engage in criminal activity. The result was an increase of inmates in already crowded facilities.

Does Incarceration Deter Crime?

Although the justification for lengthy or enhanced incarceration sentences makes sense, it doesn’t translate into the real world. For instance, researchers at the University of California, the University of Michigan, Kaiser Permanente Colorado Institute for Health Research, the State University of New York and the University of Colorado School of Medicine found that incarceration was not a deterrent from committing violent crimes in the future.

In their study, which was published in Nature Human Behavior, the researchers followed 111,110 individuals convicted of felonies in Michigan between 2003 and 2006 who were sentenced to either prison or probation. They compared the arrest rates for violent crimes between the two groups in 2015 and found that there was no significant difference between those who were imprisoned and those on probation.

Similarly, in 2016, the National Institute of Justice, drawing from Daniel S. Nagin’s essay on incarceration and deterrence, stated that, although prison serves to punish individuals, it doesn’t prevent crime.

The five points regarding the effects of incarceration include:

  • Knowing that someone will be caught is much more of a deterrent than the punishments for the crime.
  • Sending a person to prison could produce the opposite of the intended effect. Inmates can learn from each other new methods about how to perpetrate crimes.
  • Police sending messages about the certainty of being caught may be more effective at deterring crime.
  • Creating enhanced sentences does little to prevent crime because people may not be aware of the punishments for an offense.
  • Having a death penalty might not stop people from committing serious offenses.

Two Criminal Justice Reform Bills Signed in California

At the beginning of October of 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a number of criminal justice reform bills. Two of the measures addressed California’s jail and prison crisis.

Senate Bill 136 ends a 1-year sentence enhancement imposed on convictions for certain felonies. Under previous law, a person’s base prison term would be increased by 1 year for each prior non-violent crime conviction. Now the 1-year enhancement is only imposed on prior sexually violent felonies.

Assembly Bill 484 does away with mandatory jail time for some offenses. Under the old law, if a person was sentenced to probation for selling or possessing controlled substances such as cocaine, cocaine hydrochloride, or heroin, the judge was required to impose a 180-day jail term. The new law makes that sentence permissive rather than mandatory.

For Effective Legal Counsel, Contact The Law Office of Brian C. Andritch

Although criminal justice reform measures seek to address concerns about the effects of lengthy prison sentences, whether a matter involves a drug crime or sex crime, being found guilty still carries harsh punishments. Our attorney is here to fight to protect your rights and minimize the effects of a conviction on your life.

Schedule a free consultation by filling out an online contact form, or reach out to our firm by calling us at (559) 484-2112.