U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Estimating the Impact of Incarceration on Subsequent Offending Trajectories: Deterrent, Criminogenic, or Null Effect?

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Volume: 98 Issue: 1 Dated: Fall 2007 Pages: 207-254
Date Published
48 pages

This article examines the extent to which incapacitation affects individuals generally, and their subsequent criminal activity specifically.


The key finding shows that a comparison of the counterfactual and actual offending patterns indicated that most releasees (96 percent) were either deterred from future offending or merely incapacitated by their incarceration, while a small percentage (4 percent) exhibited a criminogenic effect. In other words, roughly 4 percent of the releasees returned to trajectories of offending higher than, and 40 percent of them returned to a trajectory lower than, what was expected of them. This article examined the effects of incarceration on individual offending trajectories, and sought to extend this area of research by proposing and implementing an information-theoretic model applied to a large sample of prisoners. The results of such an effort had both theoretical and policy matters stated, as the study of incapacitation and its role in altering criminal activity is a central policy question underlying the criminal career framework. The article also examined whether the experience of being incarcerated affected postrelease offending behavior, to classify these effects, and investigated the factors associated with them. The data used in this research effort came from a larger study, Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1994, collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) primarily to study recidivism of a nationally representative cohort of persons released from State prisons. The current data collection effort tracked a sample of 38,624 prisoners released from 15 State prisons in 1994 over a period of 3 years, and consisted of information on each releasee's entire officially recorded criminal history, including all recorded adult arrests. These data were obtained from State and Federal automated RAP sheets that included arrest, adjudication, and sentencing information, and provided information on the adjudication outcome at each successive arrest event utilized in the study models. 5 figures, 8 tables, 73 notes

Date Published: January 1, 2007