Author Judy Trevena and Don Weatherburn
Published October 2015
Report Type Crime and Justice Bulletin No. 187
Subject Diversion; Prisons and prisoners; Recidivism / Re-offending; Sentencing; Statistical methods and modelling
Keywords prison, re-offending, special deterrence, propensity score matching, suspended sentence

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This bulletin examines the question of whether short prison sentences (up to 12 months) exert a special deterrent effect.


Propensity score matching was used to compare time to reconviction among 3,960 matched pairs of offenders, in which one of each pair received a prison sentence of 12 months or less and the other received a suspended sentence of two years or less. Kaplan Meier survival analysis was then used to examine time to the first proven offence committed after the index court appearance. Adjustments were made for any time spent in custody during the follow-up period.


No significant differences were found between the matched prison and suspended sentence groups in the time to first new offence.


These results suggest that short custodial sentences exert no more deterrent effect than comparable community orders.

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