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    This manuscript is based on work supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Points of view are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. We are grateful for the helpful comments of the editor and the anonymous reviewers on earlier drafts of the paper.

  • Cassia Spohn is Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where she holds a Kayser Professorship. She is the author of How Do Judges Decide? The Search for Fairness and Justice in Punishment, which will be published in 2002. She also is the co-author of two books: The Color of Justice: Race, Ethnicity, and Crime in America (with Sam Walker and Miriam DeLone) and Rape Law Reform: A Grassroots Movement and Its Impact (with Julie Homey). She has published a number of articles examining prosecutors' charging decisions in sexual assault cases and exploring the effect of race/ethnicity on charging and sentencing decisions. Her current research interests include the effect of race and gender on court processing decisions, victim characteristics and case outcomes in sexual assault cases, judicial decision making, sentencing of drug offenders, and the deterrent effect of imprisonment. In 1999 she was awarded the University of Nebraska Outstanding Research and Creative Activity Award.

  • David Holleran is Assistant Professor with the department of criminal justice/criminology at East Tennessee State University. He recently earned his doctorate in criminal justice from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. His research interests include judicial decision making, prosecutorial discretion, and recidivism.


The purpose of this study is to evaluate the deterrent effect of imprisonment. Using data on offenders convicted of felonies in 1993 in Jackson County (Kansas City), Missouri, we compare recidivism rates for offenders sentenced to prison with those for offenders placed on probation. We find no evidence that imprisonment reduces the likelihood of recidivism. Instead, we find compelling evidence that offenders who are sentenced to prison have higher rates of recidivism and recidivate more quickly than do offenders placed on probation. We also find persuasive evidence that imprisonment has a more pronounced criminogenic effect on drug offenders than on other types of offenders.