Tuesday, December 25, 2007

More NCJRS Abstracts, Christmas Edition


[The articles in this series do not touch on the criminogenic nature of prison, that is, do the released inmates commit more or harsher crimes than they would have had they been punished in other ways? They also imply that the number of crimes “incapacitated” while in prison is the highest that could have been achieved had other nonincarcerative punishments been used, another unproven assumption. Therefore, I would argue that, in lending legitimacy to the politicized notion that prison is the best way to stop current crime while ignoring opportunity costs and aftereffects as well as the studies that have documented better victim-effective, cost-effective alternatives for most offenders and offenses, these unfortunate and fundamentally flawed articles actually do more harm than good to intelligent and informed policymaking. The results shouldn’t be ignored, just taken with a humungous can of salt. Pretending you’re talking about crime reduction and public safety by focusing on prison incapacitation is like pretending you’re talking about driving by focusing on a car.]

NCJ 220672
Gary Sweeten; Robert Apel
Incapacitation: Revisiting an Old Question with a New Method and New Data
Journal of Quantitative Criminology
Volume:23 Issue:4 Dated:December 2007 Pages:303 to 326

Using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997, this study sought to estimate the number of crimes avoided through incapacitation of individual offenders. Results indicate that between 6.2 and 14.1 offenses are prevented per year of juvenile incarceration and between 4.9 to 8.4 offenses are prevented per year of adult incarceration. Despite its limitations, the technique of propensity score matching could profitably be applied to a number of additional research problems related to justice system involvement. A daunting challenge for any study of incapacitation is to estimate what would have happened had the incarcerated individual been free. In other words, on average, how many crimes the person would have committed if free. This study employs an approach that entails matching incarcerated individuals with non-incarcerated individuals on the basis of a propensity score created using information temporally prior to the treated individual’s first incarceration spell. Data were used from the first six waves of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997. This is a nationally representative sample of 8,984 youths born during the years 1980 through 1984 and living in the United States during the initial interview year in 1997. Tables, figures, appendix, and references

NCJ 220673
Arjan A.J. Blokland; Paul Nieuwbeerta
Selectively Incapacitating Frequent Offenders: Costs and Benefits of Various Penal Scenarios
Journal of Quantitative Criminology
Volume:23 Issue:4 Dated:December 2007 Pages:327 to 353

This study used data from the Netherlands Criminal Career and Life-course Study to estimate the incapacitative effects of alternative selective prison policies, specifically targeting some predefined group of offenders. Selectively incapacitating presumed frequent offenders on the basis of the number of offenses they have committed in the past, or in the preceding 5 years, leads to substantial decline in crime. This decline is the greatest in the first years after the introduction of the selective policy as a rising share of offenders are selectively imprisoned. Imprisonment aims to reduce crime in three ways: general deterrence, specific deterrence, and incapacitation. This study deals with the latter, the incapacitative effect of imprisonment. In particular it focuses on the effects of selective incapacitation, that is, imprisonment policies specifically targeting some predefined group of offenders. This predefined group of offenders is the small number of offenders responsible for the disproportionate share of total crime. The rationale behind selective incapacitation policies is straightforward: reducing crime at lower cost. The aim of this study was to examine the effects of various selective incapacitation policies in the Netherlands. This is accomplished by simulating the effects of various hypothetical selective scenarios, varying in both selection rate and disparity ratio using data from the Criminal Career and Life-course Study, a longitudinal study of a Dutch conviction cohort followed up to age 72. Figures, tables, and references

NCJ 220669
Peter Reuter; Shawn D. Bushway
Revisiting Incapacitation: Can We Generate New Estimates?
Journal of Quantitative Criminology
Volume:23 Issue:4 Dated:December 2007 Pages:259 to 265

Focusing on the incapacitation path, this paper reviews prior research from the perspective of criminologists and economists, some new empirical contributions, and a methodological note raising a basic point about the related effort to maximize incapacitation effects by selective incarceration. A substantial body of empirical research examines how the huge expansion in incarceration in the United States since the early 1970s has influenced crime. These studies merge the effects of three conceptually distinct paths by which incarceration might reduce crime: general deterrence, specific deterrence, and incapacitation. Incapacitation has acquired prominence primarily because of the claim that it is more readily estimated than the total effect. This paper focuses specifically on the incapacitation path. It reviews the individual papers and offers judgment as to the plausibility of progress using different research strategies. It emphasizes the potential for using individual level data to take advantage of natural experiments. References

NCJ 220670
Alex R. Piquero; Alfred Blumstein
Does Incapacitation Reduce Crime?
Journal of Quantitative Criminology
Volume:23 Issue:4 Dated:December 2007 Pages:267 to 285

This article provides an overview of the incapacitation issue, highlights information on recent estimates of criminal careers that could be useful to the incapacitation model, and outlines a research agenda for continued and expanded work on incapacitation and crime. A prominent call in this paper is for more in-depth, descriptive research into the longitudinal patterning of criminal careers, as well as a renewed call for more current data sources that contain the necessary information to assess contemporary incapacitation effects. Questions and answers about incapacitation abound in all discussions about criminal justice policy. They are among the most pressing of all research issues, yet estimates about the incapacitation effect on crime vary considerably, and most are based on very old and incomplete estimates of the longitudinal pattern of criminal careers. This paper has three principal aims. First, to present a brief overview of the main issues regarding the incapacitation literature that is concerned with estimation of individual offending rates. The second is to highlight some recent criminal career findings that illuminate the importance of such information and its relevance for generating incapacitation estimates. Lastly, the paper presents an argument for the criminological approach and sets an agenda for future research that seeks to further the knowledge base about the incapacitation effect. References

NCJ 220671
Thomas J. Miles; Jens Ludwig
Silence of the Lambdas: Deterring Incapacitation Research
Journal of Quantitative Criminology
Volume:23 Issue:4 Dated:December 2007 Pages:287 to 301

This paper provides an economist’s perspective on criminological research into incapacitation effects on crime and the deterrence of incapacitation research. The economic evidence for deterrence, as distinguished from incapacitation, is small and beset by difficulties. It is argued that criminologists would benefit from substantially scaling back the enterprise of trying to estimate the various behavioral parameters central to a micro-level approach to measuring incapacitation effects, including the annual rate of offending outside of prison and the lengths of criminal careers. However, a key question is a matter of which approach holds the greater promise for identifying policy-relevant information about incarceration and about incarceration’s effects. The most promising way to identify the net impacts of incarceration from the combination of incapacitation, deterrence, and replacement effects is from the careful study of natural experiments. Credible natural experiments require “shoe leather” research to identify cases where State or Federal policy changes, court decisions, or treatment assignment rules generate differences in punishment experiences across populations that are plausibly unrelated to other determinants of criminal activity. References

NCJ 220674
Avinash Singh Bhati
Estimating the Number of Crimes Averted by Incapacitation: An Information Theoretic Approach
Journal of Quantitative Criminology
Volume:23 Issue:4 Dated:December 2007 Pages:355 to 375

This paper presents an information theoretic approach for estimating the number of crimes averted by incapacitation. Using an information theoretic approach, the data reveal a fair amount of variation among individuals both in terms of the number of crimes averted by their incarceration and the responsiveness of these estimates to longer incarceration terms. Estimates were found not to vary substantially across demographic groups defined by offender race, gender, or ethnicity; variations across States and offense types were more pronounced. Implications of the findings are discussed. Although incarceration can, and presumably does, have other effects on crime, this paper addresses only the incapacitation effect. The paper begins with a brief review of the literature. This is followed by a nontechnical overview of the analytical framework. After describing the data used in this study, the paper than presents the main findings with a discussion of their implications. The paper concludes with a discussion relating findings reported in this paper with those reported elsewhere in the literature, and enumerates some promising directions for future research. The paper developed an information theoretic approach for modeling the criminal history accumulation process of a sample of prison releasees. Separate models were estimated for two crime categories, crimes against persons and property related crimes. The models were used to simulate the anticipated effects of increasing prison terms for all individuals. Figures, tables, and references

NCJ 220675
Shawn Bushway; Jeffrey Smith
Sentencing Using Statistical Treatment Rules: What We Don't Know Can Hurt Us
Journal of Quantitative Criminology
Volume:23 Issue:4 Dated:December 2007 Pages:377 to 387
This paper examines the existing literatures’ misinterpretation of the available evidence on the predictability of high rate criminal offending and the possible value of statistical treatment rules imposing stiffer punishments on offenders with higher predicted risk of recidivism. It is argued that researchers must first undo the existing sentencing regime in order to allow a meaningful analysis of the potential of risk assessment based on observable characteristics and the associated use of statistical treatment rules in sentencing. The largely unrecognized conceptual difficulties with the current risk assessment literature imply that there is a need to start at the beginning in order to assess the potential benefits of a statistical sentencing policy. It is seen as time to abandon old conceptual frameworks and begin work on research which pays explicit attention to the current treatment regime. This will allow those to directly inform current policy and make valid inferences about the predictability of high risk behavior. Over several decades, criminologists have devoted their efforts to the problem of identifying high-rate offenders. These efforts have focused primarily on criminal history records as predictors of future behavior. These efforts to identify high-risk offenders are viewed as ineffective. This paper illustrates the fundamental problem with identifying high rate offenders so as to subject them to harsher punishments via a statistical treatment rule. References

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