Researchers Ask: Are Prisons The Best Way To Stop Violent Criminals?

A study conducted by the sociologist David Harding from the University of California at Berkeley has concluded that locking up criminals who committed assaults, robberies and similar crimes does little to prevent them for committing these crimes again once they get out of prison. The whole findings were published in the Nature Human Behavior publication, and question whether the strict standards we have against crime now (such as mandatory minimum sentences) are very effective.

“We are investing too much money in prisons and the benefit in terms of public safety is very low,” says Harding. Harding and his team analyzed how often it was that criminals would commit crimes again after being released from prising, analyzing more than 100,000 people in Michigan that were found guilty between 2003 and 2006, and continued to track their activity up until 2015. Their analysis mainly focused on cases where the judges had the option of sentencing defendants to prison or probation.

The results show that people who were on parole for 5 years after committing a crime, and those who went to prison for 5 years after committing a crime, were roughly equally likely to go out and commit crimes again as soon as they could. “The conclusion here is that incarceration does not make a dent in violent crime rates,” says Harding. “Our findings show that we could imprison fewer people convicted of violent crimes and invest savings in other ways to prevent violence in society.”

Clearly this is an area where further research is needed, as researchers have not made a firm conclusion on what “other ways to prevent violence in society” are most effective.

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Steve Green

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