Estimating the impact of incarceration on subsequent offending trajectories: Deterrent, criminogenic, or null effect?

Avinash Singh Bhati, Alex R. Piquero

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


Despite record levels of incarceration and much discussion about the role that incarceration plays in influencing criminal activity, there does not yet exist a sound knowledge base about the extent to which incarceration exhibits a criminogenic, deterrent, or null effect on subsequent individual offending trajectories. This is an unfortunate happenstance since classic criminological theories make vastly different predictions about the role of punishment in altering criminal activity, and life-course criminologists suggest that life events can materially influence subsequent criminal activity. Using arrest histories of a sample of prisoners released from state prisons in 1994 and followed for three years post-release, this Article seeks to address the impact of incarceration on subsequent offending trajectories. Results indicate that a comparison of the counterfactual and actual offending patterns suggests that most releasees were either deterred from future offending (40%) or merely incapacitated by their incarceration (56%). Only about 4% had a criminogenic effect. Future theoretical and empirical research directions are outlined.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-254
Number of pages48
JournalJournal of Criminal Law and Criminology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2007

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