Effect of arrest and imprisonment on crime

Recent research conducted by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research indicate that increasing the risk of arrest and the probability of imprisonment are much more effective in preventing property and violent crime than increasing the length of prison terms.  This study is one of the most comprehensive ever undertaken in Australia into the effectiveness of the criminal justice system in controlling crime.

It examined the effect of changes in the probability of arrest, the probability of imprisonment and the length of the average prison term on trends in property and violent crime across every Local Government Area (LGA) in NSW between 1996 and 2008.

The summary conclusion reached by the research was that:

The criminal justice system plays a significant role in preventing crime.  Some criminal justice variables, however, exert much stronger effects than others. Increasing arrest rates is likely to have the largest impact, followed by increasing the likelihood of receiving a prison sentence. Increasing the length of stay in prison beyond current levels does not appear to impact on the crime rate after accounting for increases in arrest and imprisonment likelihood. Policymakers should focus more attention on strategies that increase the risk of arrest and less on strategies that increase the severity of punishment.

More details are available in the media release.  See also 'When it comes to crime, harsher punishment doesn't pay' by Anna Patty, SMH, 14 March 2012.  You can read the full report 'The effect of arrest and imprisonment on crime' by Wai-Yin Wan, Steve Moffatt, Craig Jones and Don Weatherburn, Crime and Justice Bulletin No 158, February 2012.

According to Don Weatherburn, the best crime prevention tool is a strong and vibrant economy not tougher penalties or more police.


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