« Noting significant biases in pot policies and practices | Main | Playing the "blame game" for increased sentencing disparities after Booker »

November 5, 2009

"[A]mong those facing drug-related charges, incarceration and supervision seem not to deter subsequent criminal behavior"

The title of this post is the key take-away from the abstract of this new criminology paper on SSRN from Donald Green and Daniel Winik. The paper is titled "Using Random Judge Assignments to Estimate the Effects of Incarceration and Probation on Recidivism Among Drug Offenders," and here is the abstract:

Most prior studies of recidivism have used observational data to estimate the causal effect of imprisonment or probation on the probability that a convicted individual is re-arrested after release. Very few studies have taken advantage of the fact that in some jurisdictions, defendants are randomly assigned to judges who vary in sentencing tendencies.  The present study investigates whether defendants who are randomly assigned to more punitive judges have different recidivism probabilities than defendants who are assigned to relatively lenient judges.

We track 1,003 defendants charged with drug-related offenses (and no non-drug-related offenses) who were randomly assigned to nine judicial calendars between June 1, 2002 and May 9, 2003. Judges on these calendars meted out sentences that varied substantially in terms of prison and probation time. We tracked defendants using court records over a four-year period following the disposition of their cases in order to determine whether they were subsequently re-arrested.  Our results indicate that randomly-assigned variations in prison and probation time have no detectable effect on rates of re-arrest.  The findings suggest that, at least among those facing drug-related charges, incarceration and supervision seem not to deter subsequent criminal behavior.

November 5, 2009 at 01:04 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "[A]mong those facing drug-related charges, incarceration and supervision seem not to deter subsequent criminal behavior":


This is a really first rate research design, and defies conventional wisdom.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Nov 5, 2009 8:34:11 PM

I think, it's been said before. Incapacitation is the sole mature and effective purpose of the criminal law.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 5, 2009 10:03:51 PM

Isn't this opposite the findings of the Missouri Sentencing Commission you reported a week or so ago?

Posted by: zz | Nov 6, 2009 9:57:29 AM

Yes Virginia, there are hard-core criminals who choose to return to a life of crime upon release. Is this news?

Posted by: mjs | Nov 6, 2009 7:50:17 PM

Drug-related crimes somehow equate to "hard-core criminals." Maybe around the prosecutors' offices, but not so much in the real world, Virginia.

Posted by: Mark # 1 | Nov 6, 2009 10:01:09 PM

There are drug dealers, expendable user/dealers and users. The expendable user/dealers are the most common clients of the CJ System and they cycle in and out of prison fairly rapidly (18 months is in the right range). When they get back on the street they have few options. If they do deal repeatedly that makes them "hard-core-criminals" from the point of view of the court where others think they are victims of circumstances. I don't think it is a good idea to make assumptions about how dangerous they are.

Where I live drug court is a prison alternative for users but some users also sell to friends so the judge has to decide if they are primarily a user or if they are a user/dealer before they admit them to drug court. I guess drug court differs from state-to-state.

Posted by: John Neff | Nov 7, 2009 7:31:58 AM

Mark: Hard-core criminals are those who fail to take advantage of leniency and continue to reoffend. The type or severity of the crime is immaterial.

Posted by: mjs | Nov 7, 2009 10:04:00 AM

First of all the gov't doesn't give them a chance to change there lives.. if your a convicted felon. You can't get a job with out doing a background check and once they find out your a felon.
who's gonna hire you. You can't even get a job at McDonald's at minimum wage. So how are these felons, suppose to make a decent living. so maybe there should be a change in the law. For companies and employer to use discretion and weigh the history of the of the individual. If the individuals are career criminals or some unfortunate circumstances happened to the individual that lead them to be convicted. (example) if someone steals food to feed there kids vs someone who steals just to get high or to get initiated into a gang. Or someone fights with someone and really hurts the person, but was only trying to save himself.

Posted by: kp169 | Mar 11, 2010 12:37:51 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB