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Does Severe Punishment Mean Less Criminality?

NCJ Number
International Criminal Justice Review Volume: 13 Dated: 2003 Pages: 110-148
Helmut Kury; Theodore N. Ferdinand; Joachim Obergfell-Fuchs
Date Published
39 pages
This study used data from the International Crime and Victims Survey to obtain crime statistics for various nations and then collected data on "punitivity" in the countries to determine whether severity of punishment deterred crime.
The study used data on the proportion of offenders who were sent to prison as the index of "punitivity." In the analysis of crime and its relationship to "punitivity," this paper focuses on the United States, Finland, and Germany. Based on the data analysis, the study concludes that the most effective policy for curbing crime rates is one of moderation in the use of imprisonment. Imprisonment has only proven effective in reducing recidivism when the period of incapacitation is associated with treatment and rehabilitation programs that have been proven effective with particular types of offenders and offenses, and many of the treatment programs that have reduced recidivism have proven effective in noninstitutional settings. In Germany, for example, in 1882 approximately 80 percent of all convicted offenders were sent to prison; currently, the imprisonment rate is only about 1 percent. This enormous reduction in the severity of punishment has not fostered large increases in serious crime, but rather has achieved significant reductions. The implications of the findings of this study are that crime rates reflect cultural and societal influences rather than penal policies, and penal policies achieve their greatest effect when they focus on rehabilitative measures. Cost-effectiveness analysis should compel societies to reduce the severity of their punishment and increase the civility of cultural values and societal conditions. 2 tables, 7 figures, and 101 references