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Backfire: When Incarceration Increases Crime

NCJ Number
Journal of the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Research Consortium Volume: 3 (August 1996) Issue: Dated: Pages: 7-18
T R Clear
Date Published
12 pages
This article examines various ways in which incarceration may inadvertently affect crime rates.
Even though levels of imprisonment increased fivefold since 1973, crime rates have not dropped proportionately during the same period, and the article argues that the crime-reducing aspects of imprisonment are considerably negated by the crime-enhancing ones. It focuses on three crime-enhancing effects of imprisonment. First, replacement of co-offenders may account for the failure of prisons to reduce crime. Replacement also results in an earlier and more sustained recruitment of young people into criminal careers. Second, as more people acquire a grounded knowledge of prison life, the power of prison to deter crime through fear of the unknown is diminished. Extensive reality-based experience of prisons in certain communities exponentially increases the significance of this problem. Finally, social factors known to contribute to criminality, such as broken families, inequality and social disorder, increase with high rates of imprisonment, especially in certain communities. Notes, references