A Revolving Door? A Meta-Analysis of the Impact of Custodial Sanctions on Reoffending
Research Summary: Despite a downsizing of the prison population over the last decade, the United States remains the world's largest incarcerator. While prior meta-analytic reviews have indicated prisons have a null or slight criminogenic effect, there has been a substantial increase in primary studies assessing the impact of custodial sanctions on reoffending since 2010. The current study conducts the most comprehensive and rigorous meta-analytic review of research to date comparing the effects
... mparing the effects of custodial and non-custodial sanctions on reoffending. Using a sample of 959 effect sizes calculated from 116 studies, this review builds on prior research by (a) conducting the first inclusive review of the research in over a decade; (b) drawing on advancements in modeling techniques that could account for the precision and statistical dependence of effect sizes; and (c) examining whether a wide variety of methodological characteristics moderate mean effect sizes. The results of multilevel analyses revealed that custodial sanctions have a weak criminogenic effect on reoffending and that this effect is relatively robust across a wide variety of methodological moderators. Policy Implications: America's reliance on incarceration is unlikely to wane in the near future. However, the results of the current study illustrate that incarceration is not achieving one of its oft-desired goals of deterrence. While there is certainly a subset of high-risk offenders for whom incapacitation is warranted, in general, placing individuals in custodial sanctions appears to contribute to, rather than reduce, reoffending. As a result, sentencing low-level offenders and marginal felons to non-custodial sanctions may lead to considerable savings for correctional departments and allow offenders to be connected to and contribute to their communities while reducing reoffending. For the sake of public safety and those for whom incarceration is appropriate, however, more research is needed on the in-prison social and psychological dynamics increase post-release criminal behavior.