Incapacitation Effects of Increased Prison Terms
Laws and policies regarding whether or not to sentence particular offenders to prison and how long they should serve are based, in part, on the believed “effects” of incarceration. Included among these effects are punishment (or “just deserts”), the possibility that the offender (and others) will be deterred from committing crimes in the future, and the possibility that the offender might be rehabilitated by the programs offered in prison. Added to these reasons for incarcerating offenders is the fact that offenders who are sentenced to prison are prevented from committing crimes in the wider society for the duration of their incarceration. Uncertainty as to whether prison has any sizable deterrent or rehabilitative effects has led many people to believe that only through incapacitating offenders can prison have any major effect on overall levels of crime. If the offenders subjected to prison sentences can be expected to commit crimes at very high rates while on the street and if those crimes would not be committed by someone else in their absence, such policies could have a profound impact on levels of crime in society. If prison is viewed from this perspective, a major issue is how to maximize the crime-reduction benefit of prison while minimizing its cost. Proponents of selective incapacitation argue that by adjusting sentence lengths on the basis of the number of crimes different offenders can be expected to commit when they are released, a larger crime-reduction effect could be achieved with the same amount of prison space.
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