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Is Imprisonment Criminogenic?: A Comparative Study of Recidivism Rates Between Prison and Suspended Prison Sanctions

NCJ Number
European Journal of Criminology Volume: 6 Issue: 6 Dated: November 2009 Pages: 459-480
Jose Cid
Date Published
November 2009
22 pages
This article examined the effects of custodial versus non-custodial sentences on recidivism in Spain.
Findings suggest that prison sanctions do not reduce recidivism more effectively than suspended sentences; however, the risk of recidivism increases when the offender is imprisoned. Although specific deterrence theory should be interpreted as the suppression effect of the first experience of incarceration, this research is not compatible with this theory since the increase in the risk of recidivism following incarceration applies both to offenders incarcerated for the first time, as well as to offenders with previous incarcerations. The results of this research are therefore compatible with labeling theory, which proposes that prison is likely to lead to higher rates of recidivism compared to a suspended sentence. In order to reduce recidivism it seems reasonable to replace prison with non-custodial sentences; this is especially important when the offender has no previous experience of imprisonment. With high-risk offenders, the risk of recidivism increases if the penalty is imprisonment and the re-offending rate is also very high when the penalty is a suspended sentence. Data were collected from 1,418 offenders sentenced in 1998 by the Criminal Courts of Barcelona for an offense for which the maximum penalty was no more than 3 years of imprisonment. Tables, figures, appendixes, and references