Recidivism: The Effect of Incarceration and Length of Time Served by Lin Song and Roxanne Lieb summarizes the research on both sides of the debate. They provide view points for both those advocating longer sentences saying it reduces crime for three reasons. “The offender cannot reoffend against the public while incarcerated, long periods of incarceration discourage released offenders from committing additional crime and the awareness of penalties discourage potential offenders from committing crimes” (Song & Lieb 1993, pg. 2). On the other hand, those advocating for shorter sentences argue, certainty of punishment is more important than duration and those incarcerated will become more sophisticated and entrenched criminals. Clemmer (1940) hypothesized that during imprisonment, inmates learn the norms of the antisocial subculture form other prisoners, therefore the longer an offender stays in prison, the higher their degree of prisonization and greater likelihood of reoffending.
A person’s bonds to a community including familial, work place, interpersonal and economic relationships have an impact on the likelihood of recidivism. The longer a person is removed from the outside, the more uncertain those bonds become. Those weakened bonds due to incarceration increase an offender’s probability of committing new crimes upon being released. “Adjustment difficulties after the offender is released from prison, such as social rejection, may also influence re-offense behavior” (Song & Lieb 1993, pg. 3).
Song and Lieb then go on to talk about other variables that play a role, which according to Walker (1987) include the offenders age, criminal history and type of offense. Age plays a role because those offenders who served longer prison terms are typically older upon being released making them less likely to reoffend. Offenders who already have prior offenses are more likely to reoffend than first-time offenders. “Some types of offenders, such as burglars and robbers, have higher recidivism rates than other types of offenders” (Song & Lieb 1993, pg. 4). Those variables can have an effect of the time served on recidivism rates. “Beck and Hoffman (1976) followed 1,546 adult federal prisoners in the United States for two years after their release. Offenders were categorized according to their “salient factor score” which took into account their prior criminal history, age, education, employment history, and marital status. The offenders were first grouped by their scores, and were then further divided according to their time served. Results showed there was no substantial association between time served and recidivism rates” (Song & Lieb 1993, pg. 5).
Although they provide research for both sides of the debate, like Martinson, Song and Lieb do not come up with a strong position for either side. In their conclusion, they state “Early release (only a few months early in the studies reviewed) appears to neither increase nor decrease the overall recidivism rates. More research is needed for a better understanding about the effects of time served and early release on the reoffending behavior of specific types of offenders” (Song & Lieb 1993, pg. 5).