The recidivism of offenders given suspended sentences: A comparison with full-time imprisonment


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Release Date: 11 November 2009

Being sent to prison is no more effective in reducing the risk of future re-offending than being threatened with prison, the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has found. In fact, if anything, being sent to prison actually increases the risk of further offending.

The Bureau compared a group of offenders given a suspended sentence of imprisonment with a group of offenders given a sentence of full-time imprisonment.

The prison and suspended sentence cases were carefully matched on a large range of factors including gender, Indigenous status, age, socioeconomic disadvantage, jurisdiction (Local or District), plea, offence type, offence seriousness, number of concurrent offences, number of prior offences, whether the defendant had had a previous suspended sentence, whether the defendant had a prior juvenile offence and whether the offender had a prior violent offence.

Separate analyses were carried out for 1,661 matched pairs of offenders with a prior prison sentence and 2,650 matched pairs of offenders who had no prior prison sentence.

Re-offending was measured via the proportion of offenders convicted of a further offence in each group. Offenders were followed up from the date of sentence (between 2002 to 2004) until their first reconviction or the end of 2008 (whichever came first).

In cases where the offender had no previous experience of imprisonment, the Bureau found no significant difference in the likelihood of re-conviction between those who received a full-time sentence of imprisonment and those who were given a suspended sentence of imprisonment.

In cases where the offender had been previously sent to prison, the Bureau found offenders sent to prison were significantly more likely to re-offend than matched offenders given a suspended sentence of imprisonment.

Commenting on the findings, the Director of the Bureau, Dr Don Weatherburn, said they were consistent with a growing body of evidence that the experience of imprisonment does not reduce the risk of further offending.

"This does not mean we should abandon prison as a sanction for offending", he said. "Prison might still be justified on the grounds of general deterrence, punishment or incapacitation. Our study suggests, however, that it would be wrong to impose a prison sentence on an offender in the belief that it will deter the offender from further offending'"

Further enquiries: Don Weatherburn: 0419-494-408, 9231-9190,