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Two Views on Imprisonment Policies: Lethal Violence and the Overreach of American Imprisonment and Supply Side Imprisonment Policy

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 1997
30 pages
Publication Series
These two papers present empirical findings and contrasting opinions regarding the advantages of current sentencing and imprisonment policies.
The paper by Zimring and his collaborator Hawkins argues that the serious problem in the United States is lethal violence rather than crime, that life-threatening violence should be a special priority for criminal sanctions, and that prison should be reserved mainly for these most serious threats. The discussion notes that rates of theft and burglary are similar for the United States and other developed countries, whereas the United States has far higher rates of offenses that jeopardize life. The analysis concludes that policies that have broadened the range of offenses punished by imprisonment have shifted the focus of corrections policies away from their appropriate priority. The paper by Block argues that imposing noticeable prison sentences helps control crime. It describes experimental research that concluded an increase in the likelihood that the penalty will be imposed is a much stronger deterrent that is an increase in the severity of the penalty. It also presents a cost-benefit analysis to support the conclusion that excessive levels of crime and imprisonment result from an insufficiently harsh sentencing and imprisonment for essentially all convictions for violent crimes is likely to be cost justified and may actually reduce the prison population. Figures, tables, notes, appended list of data sources and estimates, and lists of 14 references and 26 references

Date Published: July 1, 1997