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Does Prison Deter Drunk Drivers?

NCJ Number
Journal of Quantitative Criminology Volume: 37 Dated: December 2021 Pages: 979-1001
Date Published
September 2020
21 pages

This paper lays out the authors’ efforts to examine the specific deterrent effect on recidivism, of prison on driving under the influence of alcohol; the report lays out the authors’ research methodology, outcomes, and conclusions, which suggest that only a small impact on recidivism can be observed in the short-term, and no impact on recidivism over five years.


The purpose of the research study reported here was to examine the specific deterrent effect of prison on driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) recidivism. The study outcomes were the probabilities of DUI re-offending over 6 months, 24 months and 5 years ‘free time’ (i.e. time not spent in custody). The comparison group consisted of offenders convicted of DUI offending who received a suspended sentence of imprisonment. The effect of imprisonment was examined in a series of 2SLS models; employing an extensive set of controls (age, gender, race, remoteness of residence, socioeconomic status, legal representation, number of concurrent offences, DUI blood alcohol range, number of prior court appearances, prior penalties) and variation in the judicial proclivity to imprison convicted drunk drive offenders as an instrument to identify the effect of prison on DUI re-offending. The authors’ free-time analyses reveal no evidence that imprisonment reduces the risk of DUI recidivism. Separate analyses for first-time DUI offenders revealed a slight (five percent) reduction in re-offending over 24 months free time but no effect over five years. The authors conclude that the funds currently spent on imprisoning DUI offenders could be more fruitfully invested in measures that show more promise in reducing DUI recidivism. (Published Abstract Provided)

Date Published: September 1, 2020