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How Much Crime Does Prison Stop? The Incapacitation Effect of Prison on Burglary

NCJ Number
Don Weatherburn; Jiuzhao Hua; Steve Moffatt
Date Published
January 2006
12 pages
This study examined the effects of prison incapacitation on burglaries in New South Wales (Australia).
The findings show that current levels of imprisonment in New South Wales prevent approximately 45,000 burglaries per year. Burglary rates could be reduced if sentences for burglary were longer, a higher percentage of burglars were sent to prison, or clearance rates for burglary were higher; however, the effectiveness of these measures would be reduced if they resulted in fewer guilty pleas, higher reoffending rates, or the entry of more offenders into the stolen-goods market. The increased use of imprisonment may not be a cost-effective way of reducing burglary, however. In order to achieve a 10-percent reduction in the current burglary rate through the increased imprisonment of convicted burglars, the number of burglars sentenced to prison must increase by at least 34 percent. This would cost an additional $26 million each year. More research should be conducted into the cost-effectiveness of using prison to reduce burglaries compared with other alternatives for controlling it. The data used to estimate offending frequency for burglars were obtained from a 1995 study by Salmelainen, in which 247 juvenile offenders convicted of theft were asked if they had ever committed a burglary and, if so, how many they had committed in the 6 months prior to the arrest that resulted in their incarceration. An estimate of residual criminal-career length was obtained from data collected as part of a reoffending study of New South Wales' parolees (Jones, Hua, Donnelly, McHutchison, and Heggie, 2005). This study examined the reoffending rates of more than 2,000 inmates released on parole in fiscal year 2001-2002. More than 500 had been convicted of burglary. Remaining study data were obtained from databases maintained by the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research. 7 figures, 17 notes, and 41 references