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Gender differences in the effects of prison on recidivism

Daniel P. Mears, Joshua C. Cochran & William D. Bales


Journal of Criminal Justice

Volume 40, Issue 5, September–October 2012, Pages 370–378




This study examines gender differences in the effectiveness of prison in reducing recidivism.



Using data on released male and female prisoners, we apply a propensity score matching methodology to compare the effects of prison on recidivism versus three counterfactual conditions—jail, intensive probation, and probation.



The analyses indicated that a prison term, as compared to placement on intensive probation or traditional probation, is associated with a greater likelihood of property and drug recidivism. There was little evidence that recidivism was greater when compared to jail, that prison increased the likelihood of violent or other recidivism, or that the criminogenic effect of prison is appreciably greater for females or males.



The findings do not support arguments that prison is an effective alternative to non-incarcerative punishments or that it exerts a differential effect on females or males. Further research is needed on what features of the prison experience contribute to the observed effects.



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