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Deterrence and Individual Differences Among Convicted Offenders

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Abstract

Conflicting evidence exists on how criminal propensity moderates deterrent effects, and there is little empirical evidence on this issue from relatively experienced offenders. This study tested how variation in criminal propensity (operationalized as “low self-control”) moderates deterrent effects in a sample of convicted offenders in New Jersey’s Intensive Supervision Program in 1989 and 1990. Offenders’ perceptions of the risks and consequences from violating ISP were associated with whether they successfully completed ISP. Moreover, lower self-control did not diminish, and if anything, enhanced these deterrent effects.

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Notes

  1. Tittle and Botchkovar (2005) distinguished “propensity” from “low self-control,” but recognized the two are correlated with one another.

  2. In this view, highly conformist individuals do not offend, irrespective of instrumental concerns, because they are morally or extralegally restrained. Highly criminally prone individuals are also unresponsive to instrumental considerations because their commitment to nonconformity supercedes the consideration of sanction threats. A similar typology was elaborated by Pogarsky (2002).

  3. Individuals convicted of murder, robbery, and sexual offenses are ineligible.

  4. A large number, approximately 5–10% of adult parolees and probationers, participate in ISP (Petersilia 1998).

  5. A partial exception is Maxwell and Gray (2000). Their study only examined the deterrent effect of the perceived certainty of punishment in ISP. The present study investigates a more extensive set of issues, including the deterrent effect of the perceived severity of punishment and the moderating impacts of self-control.

  6. Missing data reduced the available sample from approximately 512 to 434. There was no evidence of differential attrition. That is, some excluded respondents nevertheless had intact information for one or more study variables. There were no statistically discernible differences between included and excluded respondents on any of the key measures.

  7. Each active participant had served at least 505 days in ISP when data collection terminated. The vast majority of program failures occurred during the offender’s first year in ISP. Among offenders with known outcomes who served at least 505 days in the program, 83% successfully completed ISP. Therefore, the 76 active participants were treated as successes in later analyses. The findings were fundamentally unchanged when these 76 respondents were excluded.

  8. Some offenders even prefer a modest period of incarceration over ISP because they consider ISP overly punitive and believe there is a high probability of violation and return to prison (Petersilia 1990; Wood and Grasmick 1999).

  9. Some participants may not necessarily believe they will serve their entire remaining prison term if they violate ISP. The length of the suspended prison sentence was intended to reflect nominal “jail exposure.”

  10. Several measures that were unused in the present analyses support this assumption. Respondents rated on an 11-point Likert scale (from “hate it” to “love it”) their feelings about the curfew, counseling, and job requirements in ISP. The perceived certainty measure was positively related to all three measures, although the relationship was only significant at P < 0.05 for the first two. This provides some indication that respondents’ views about different aspects of ISP supervision were intercorrelated. In any case, comparable findings were produced with both outcomes. The second outcome was whether or not drug use was detected in ISP and, therefore, more closely “matched” the perceived certainty measure.

  11. Thought was given to using survival analysis to model the time before exiting ISP (if at all). Although a similar pattern of findings was obtained with survival models, this modeling strategy seemed inappropriate. In addition to determining who is admitted into ISP, the judicial panel also periodically reviews each case and either discharges the offender from custody, continues supervision, or violates the offender back to prison. Thus, after the 18-month minimum for successful discharge, ISP can end for one of two opposite reasons: either the offender is successfully discharged or violated. Earlier it was observed that a majority of offenders who remain in ISP beyond the minimum 18-month period successfully complete the program. Still, some offenders were violated after a long but ultimately unsuccessful period of supervision. For each active case then, it is unclear whether a longer time in ISP is positive because the offender has not yet violated ISP, or negative because the offender has not yet persuaded the judicial panel to discharge him or her from custody. This makes “time to failure” a conceptually ambiguous reflection of ISP outcome.

  12. There was no interaction between the two.

  13. This percentage is high because violent offenders are ineligible for ISP and property offending is often related to drug use.

  14. Since past drug use is so explicit a criterion for this subsample, the variable is excluded from Model (5).

  15. Although in the latter model, the coefficient is not statistically distinguishable from zero (P < 0.065).

  16. Logistic regressions take the form, ln \(\left[ {\frac{P} {{1 - P}}} \right]\, = \,\alpha \, + \,{{\bf {\beta}}}\,{{\bf X}}{\hbox{,}}\) where P is the probability of success, and β and X are vectors of regression coefficients and variables, respectively. Solving for P yields \( P\, = \,\frac{1} {{1\, + \,{\hbox{e}}^{ - ({\hbox{ $ \alpha $ }}\, + \,{\hbox{ $ \beta $ X}})} }}, \) thus permitting the calculations in Fig. 1.

  17. An alternative interpretation of the findings merits brief discussion. If the perceived certainty measure actually captured the respondents’ perceived skill at avoiding detection for drug use in ISP, the present deterrent effects might be somewhat spurious. Yet all models controlled for both the respondents’ and their friends’ prior drug use, factors that are likely to be correlated with perceived skill at avoiding detection for drug use. This counsels against this possible alternative interpretation.

  18. The distribution of low self-control was split at its median.

  19. The certainty coefficients are in the expected positive direction.

  20. According to Allison (1999), the more conservative coefficient comparison test is only warranted if the residual variation in fact differs across groups. Using stata macros developed by Hoetker (2004), the null hypothesis of equal residual variation across groups is only rejected at P < 0.05 for detected drug use (models 6 and 7), but not for success in ISP (models 8 and 9). Nevertheless, Allison’s more conservative coefficient comparison test is used in both cases.

  21. Consistent with this view, several studies suggest low self-control is multidimensional (Arneklev et al. 1993; Longshore et al. 1996; but see Piquero and Rosay 1998).

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Acknowledgments

Valuable input into this manuscript is acknowledged from Shawn Bushway, Bill McCarthy, Daniel Nagin, Alex Piquero, Min Xie, and participants at the 2005 Criminology and Economics Summer Workshop organized by the Population Research Center at the University of Maryland.

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Correspondence to Greg Pogarsky.

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Pogarsky, G. Deterrence and Individual Differences Among Convicted Offenders. J Quant Criminol 23, 59–74 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10940-006-9019-6

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