Lengthier sentences lead to recidivism reductions: New Sentencing Commission report

Yesterday the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) published their seventh study in their recidivism series. This study examined the relationship between length of incarceration and recidivism and serves as an update to a prior USSC report published in 2020. Both studies were conducted by Ryan Cotter and are part of a larger multi-year recidivism series of more than 32,000 federal offenders. The older study examined federal offenders released in 2005, and the newer study replicated the analysis but with a cohort released in 2010. Recidivism was measured by re-arrest within eight years post-release. Results of both studies were almost identical, revealing that lengthier sentences were associated with decreased recidivism rates.  UPDATE:   CJLF researcher was interviewed on this subject on LA’s John & Ken Show at this link.

The current study used a logistic regression model to estimate the impact of different sentence lengths on eight-year re-arrest rates. The sample was 22,928 offenders released from federal prison, and the author used pre-existing data from FBI records to collect information on recidivism, offense type, criminal history, and demographics. Matching and weighting techniques were used to generate groups that differed in terms of incarceration length but were otherwise statistically similar in terms of demographics, criminal history, and offense type. Incarceration length was measured using the following categories: 24-36 months, 36-48 months, 48-60 months, 60-120 months, and 120+ months. The outcome of interest was a binary indicator of whether someone was re-arrested during the eight years following their release.

In short, the odds of re-arrest were lower for offenders sentenced to more than 60 months of incarceration compared with a matched group of offenders who received shorter sentences. For people whose sentences ranged from five to ten years, the odds of re-arrest were 18% lower than comparable offenders who served shorter sentences. For people sentenced to ten years or more, the odds of re-arrest were 29% lower than comparable offenders with shorter sentences. Among offenders sentenced to less than five years, there were no statistically significant differences regarding re-arrests. Results are displayed graphically in the figure below.

For more information on the effect of incarceration length on recidivism, see CJLF’s recent review of the research on this topic, which was cited in the USSC repor. The full version is available via the Social Science Research Network.

Source: Ryan Cotter, (2022). “Length of Incarceration and Recidivism,” Technical Report. United States Sentencing Commission.