Does Imprisonment Reduce Repeated Drug Offenses?

Ha. Nope. According to a recent article in the Journal of Experimental Criminology,

Image result for drug offendersImprisonment for drug crimes as opposed to non-prison sentences such as jail stays and terms of probation was not associated with a reduction in the likelihood of recidivism. That “null” finding held for all felony drug offenders as well as for different racial, ethnic, gender, and age groups and for inmates with different punishment histories. The sole and notable exception was for whites. For white drug offenders, imprisonment—as compared to being sentenced to community sanctions such as jail, intensive probation, or probation— appeared to increase recidivism. The results of this study thus do not support the argument that prison appreciably reduces or increases recidivism for most drug offenders, but they do suggest the possibility that it may do so for white drug offenders.

These results “raise questions about the benefits that stem from tough-on-crime anti-drug legislation.”

“In short,” the authors conclude,

this study echoes other scholarship that has raised questions about the wisdom of imprisoning drug offenders if the goal is to increase public safety. That does not mean that legislation should necessarily change. Public policy reflects a range of considerations, and evidence about the effectiveness of a particular policy, such as imprisonment, on one outcome, recidivism, constitutes but one factor that may be relevant. Even so, the study adds to others in calling attention to the need to carefully assess the empirical foundation for criminal justice policy.