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Sentencing Options and Recidivism Rates Among Drug Offenders in Jackson County, Missouri

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Project Summary:

Since 1980 the number of persons incarcerated in state and federal prisons has more than tripled. Many attribute this outcome to the War on Drugs and the concomitant belief that sentencing drug offenders to prison for long periods of time will deter current and prospective offenders, leading eventually to a reduction in drug use and drug-related crime. Critics of this crime control approach contend that there is little evidence to support the argument that increasing criminal penalties will deter criminal behavior; they also argue that there is substantial evidence in support of the efficacy of drug treatment programs. In essence, then, those who support the incarceration of drug offenders contend that incarceration will have a deterrent effect, while those who oppose it contend that drug treatment is a more effective punishment. The purpose of this project is to evaluate the validity of these competing arguments regarding the sentencing of drug offenders. Using data on offenders convicted of felonies in Jackson County (Kansas City), Missouri in 1993, we will compare recidivism rates for drug and non-drug offenders who receive different types of sentences: incarceration; incarceration-plus-mandatory-treatment; probation with treatment as a condition; and regular probation. Using multiple operational definitions of recidivism (e.g., a new arrest during the follow-up period, reincarceration during the follow-up period, time to failure), we will examine recidivism rates for drug offenders, drug-involved offenders, and offenders convicted of non-drug offenses. A variety of analytical techniques, ranging from simple comparisons of means to complex multivariate analyses, will be employed. Analysis of variance will be used to determine if there are statistically significant differences in recidivism among offenders who receive different types of sentences. Appropriate multivariate techniques (either ordinary least squares regression or logistic regression) will be used to analyze the effect of sentence type on recidivism, controlling for other variables that have been shown to be predictors of recidivism. Survival analysis will be employed to analyze time to failure and to determine if there are statistically significant differences in the survival scores of offenders who receive each of the types of sentences. The results of the analyses will be examined for consistency/inconsistency and overall conclusions regarding the efficacy of the various sentencing options will be drawn. The results of this study, which addresses a subject of heated debate among criminal justice researchers and policymakers, will be of interest to social scientists, legal scholars, and criminal justice practitioners.

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