Author Don Weatherburn
Published August 2010
Report Type Crime and Justice Bulletin No. 143
Subject Diversion; Policing; Prisons and prisoners; Recidivism / Re-offending; Statistical methods and modelling
Keywords Prison, deterrence, re-offending, matched pairs, Cox regression

Download this publication



To examine the effect of prison on re-offending among offenders convicted of either non-aggravated assault or burglary.


The effect of prison on re-offending was examined by comparing time to re-conviction among 96 matched pairs of convicted burglars and 406 matched pairs of offenders convicted of non-aggravated assault. One member of each pair received a prison sentence, while the other received some form of non-custodial sanction. All offenders were matched on offence type, number of concurrent offences, prior prison experience, number of prior appearances in court and bail status at final appearance. Cox regression was used to control for age, age of first conviction, gender, race, plea, number of counts of the principal offence, legal representation and prior breach of a court order. In the case of non-aggravated assault an additional control was included: prior conviction for a violent offence.


Offenders who received a prison sentence were slightly more likely to re-offend than those who received a noncustodial penalty. The difference was just significant for non-aggravated assault but not significant for burglary.


There is no evidence that prison deters offenders convicted of burglary or non-aggravated assault. There is some evidence that prison increases the risk of offending amongst offenders convicted of non-aggravated assault but further research with larger samples is needed to confirm the results.

Download this publication