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February 7, 2009

"The Myths and Realities of Correctional Severity"

The title of this post is the partial title of this fascinating new article by John Pfaff appearing at SSRN.  The full title is "The Myths and Realities of Correctional Severity: Evidence from the National Corrections Reporting Program on Sentencing Practices," and here is the abstract:

Though the growth in US prison populations over the past three decades-from 300,000 inmates in the 1970s to 1.6 million today-is well known, its causes are not.  This paper examines one potential source of growth that has received surprisingly little rigorous attention: changes in time actually served in prison.  Using offender-level data from the National Corrections Reporting Program, this paper demonstrates that median and 75th percentile times to release have not risen dramatically, and have even declined in some jurisdictions-although some of the decline appears to be caused by states increasingly incarcerating minor offenders who may not have been admitted in earlier years.  In general, the results indicate that changes in admissions practices, rather than time served following admission, have played the dominant role in prison population growth.  This paper also examines how offender-level traits have shaped the probability of release. The young, the Hispanic, and the violent are less likely to be released in any given period, and those over forty more likely to be so.  Blacks, women, and property and drug offenders are no less likely to be released than their counterparts.

February 7, 2009 at 02:29 PM | Permalink


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FL Inmate Advocate

I would say that drugs plays a big part in almost of all this era's crimes. If you actually looked at every inmate's record, drugs are in there somewhere, whether or not they were charged with a drug offense, they play a big part in the rise in crime over the years. In the 60's and 70's is when the big picture of drugs came into light. Do we give them rehab in prison, no. Do we send them to rehab when they get out, no. It doesn't take a genius to figure this out. Florida is the 3rd largest state with inmates, falling only behind California and Texas, guess our tough on crime has paid off. Now the taxpayers get to pay for more inmates who get no rehab, and just come back through that revolving door again and again.

Posted by: OliveRose | Feb 7, 2009 9:43:47 PM

OliveRose, I don't buy your assertion that drugs "play a big part in the rise in crime over the years." Incarceration has expanded even when crime is declining. I'd dispute that the increase in incarceration rates over the last three decades has anything to do with a "rise in crime." Statistically, they're unrelated.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Feb 8, 2009 10:55:11 AM

I am another Florida advocate for prisoners.
Longer prison sentences overall. LWOP.

Posted by: beth | Feb 8, 2009 3:41:18 PM

It is popular to claim the "war on drugs" is responsible for the growth in the prison population but the timing is off. The funding for the WOD became available in 1973 but the very rapid growth in the prison population started in 1986-7. The drug gang fighting in urban areas started about 1985 and had tapered off by 1990 but the rapid growth in the prison population did not slow until about 2000.

Posted by: John Neff | Feb 8, 2009 11:49:28 PM

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