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The effects on re-offending of custodial vs non-custodial sanctions

Additional Info

  • Authors: Patrice Villettaz, Gwladys Gillieron, Martin Killias
  • Published date: 2015-01-02
  • Coordinating group(s): Crime and Justice
  • Type of document: Review, Plain language summary
  • Library Image: Library Image
  • See the full review: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.4073/csr.2015.1
  • Records available in: English, Norwegian, Spanish
  • English:

    PLAIN LANGUAGE SUMMARY

    Effects of custodial versus non-custodial sanctions on re-offending

    Custodial sentences, such as prison, are no better than non-custodial sentences in reducing re-offending.

    What is this review about?

    Those who commit illegal acts may re-offend. It is important to know which sanctions reduce re-offending and if some approaches are more effective than others.

    There are two kinds of sanctions. Custodial sanctions deprive offenders of their freedom of movement by placing them in institutions such as prisons, halfway houses, or ‘boot camps’. Non-custodial sanctions (also known as ‘alternative’ or ‘community’ sanctions) include community work, electronic monitoring, and fines. This review examines whether custodial and non-custodial sanctions have different effects on the rates of re-offending.

    What is the aim of this review?

    This Campbell systematic review compares effects of custodial and non-custodial sentences on re-offending. The authors found fourteen high-quality studies, including three randomised controlled trials and two natural experiments.

    Which studies are included in this review?

    Included studies had at least two groups: a custodial group and a non-custodial group. Sanctions had to be imposed following a criminal offence, and there had to be at least one measure of re-offending, such as new arrests.

    Fourteen high-quality studies comparing custodial and non-custodial sentences are included in the analysis. The studies span the period from 1961 to 2013 and are mostly from the USA, Europe and Australia.

    Do custodial sanctions have different effects from non-custodial sanctions on re-offending?

    No. High quality studies show that custodial sentences are no better or worse than non-custodial sentences in reducing re-offending.

    Some studies with weaker designs suggest that prison is followed by higher re-offending rates than non-custodial sanctions. However, these results may be affected by selection bias; that is, offenders who were less likely to re-offend were more likely to be given a non-custodial sentence.

    What do the results mean?

    Imprisonment is no more effective than community-based sanctions in reducing re-offending. Despite this evidence, almost all societies across the world continue to use custodial sentences as the main crime control strategy.

    In terms of rehabilitation, short confinement is not better or worse than “alternative” solutions. Many studies of sentencing practices were found that used weak and biased methods. Better evidence should be used by policy makers and practitioners, for example from randomised controlled trials or natural experiments. Although several such studies are included in this review, additional high quality studies are needed.

    Other non-custodial approaches to offender rehabilitation also need to be evaluated, such as those provided through employment or other social networks.

    How up to date is this review?

    The review authors searched for studies done from 1961 up to 2013.

  • Norwegian:

    Click on 'Download PDF' on the right to view the plain language summary in Norwegian.

  • Spanish:

    Click on 'Download PDF' on the right to view the plain language summary in Spanish.

Select language:

PLAIN LANGUAGE SUMMARY

Effects of custodial versus non-custodial sanctions on re-offending

Custodial sentences, such as prison, are no better than non-custodial sentences in reducing re-offending.

What is this review about?

Those who commit illegal acts may re-offend. It is important to know which sanctions reduce re-offending and if some approaches are more effective than others.

There are two kinds of sanctions. Custodial sanctions deprive offenders of their freedom of movement by placing them in institutions such as prisons, halfway houses, or ‘boot camps’. Non-custodial sanctions (also known as ‘alternative’ or ‘community’ sanctions) include community work, electronic monitoring, and fines. This review examines whether custodial and non-custodial sanctions have different effects on the rates of re-offending.

What is the aim of this review?

This Campbell systematic review compares effects of custodial and non-custodial sentences on re-offending. The authors found fourteen high-quality studies, including three randomised controlled trials and two natural experiments.

Which studies are included in this review?

Included studies had at least two groups: a custodial group and a non-custodial group. Sanctions had to be imposed following a criminal offence, and there had to be at least one measure of re-offending, such as new arrests.

Fourteen high-quality studies comparing custodial and non-custodial sentences are included in the analysis. The studies span the period from 1961 to 2013 and are mostly from the USA, Europe and Australia.

Do custodial sanctions have different effects from non-custodial sanctions on re-offending?

No. High quality studies show that custodial sentences are no better or worse than non-custodial sentences in reducing re-offending.

Some studies with weaker designs suggest that prison is followed by higher re-offending rates than non-custodial sanctions. However, these results may be affected by selection bias; that is, offenders who were less likely to re-offend were more likely to be given a non-custodial sentence.

What do the results mean?

Imprisonment is no more effective than community-based sanctions in reducing re-offending. Despite this evidence, almost all societies across the world continue to use custodial sentences as the main crime control strategy.

In terms of rehabilitation, short confinement is not better or worse than “alternative” solutions. Many studies of sentencing practices were found that used weak and biased methods. Better evidence should be used by policy makers and practitioners, for example from randomised controlled trials or natural experiments. Although several such studies are included in this review, additional high quality studies are needed.

Other non-custodial approaches to offender rehabilitation also need to be evaluated, such as those provided through employment or other social networks.

How up to date is this review?

The review authors searched for studies done from 1961 up to 2013.

Library Image

See the full review

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