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Choosing Punishments: Crime Control Effects of Sentences

NCJ Number
Don M. Gottfredson
Date Published
May 1998
90 pages
Data from 962 felony offenders sentenced by 18 judges in Essex County (N.J.) between May 1976 and June 1977 were used to study the effects of various sentences on later criminal careers, as well as the selection of various sanctions by judges, and the validity of subjective and objective predictions of risk and time in the community at risk.
Follow-up data from computerized criminal history records were collected between October 1995 and February 1997. Thirty-seven percent of the offenders had been convicted of crimes against persons, 24 percent of drug law offenses, 23 percent of property times, and 10 percent of weapons offenses. The offenders' average age was 29 years. Most were black males. About half had prior jail terms; 16 percent had been in prison. Forty-two percent received noncustodial sentences. Judges' purposes for sentences focused mainly on crime control. About one-fourth of the offenders were never again arrested; more than half of the others were rearrested in the first 5 years. Judges' predictions of any new crimes, or property crimes, and of person crimes were valid, but modestly so. Except for the effect of incapacitation, whether or not the offender was confined made no difference to crime control. Where the offender was confined and the length of maximum sentence imposed also made no difference. The length of time actually confined made a slight difference. Fines, restitution, or imposing jail along with probation made no difference. Findings suggested that confinement or increased length of incarceration served the crime control purpose of incapacitation but had little or no effect as a treatment with rehabilitative or specific deterrent effects. Figures, tables, and footnotes