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Comparing the effects of community service and imprisonment on reconviction: results from a quasi-experimental Danish study



This study compares reconviction rates for Danish offenders sentenced to community service and imprisonment. A large general sample of offenders (n = 1602) is examined.


The study relies on a quasi-experimental design and uses propensity score matching as well as logistic regression models to analyze the data. Models are differentiated in terms of length of observation period and control variable combinations. The study stands out as compared to previous studies due to the unprecedented assortment of individual background data available. These data, obtained from community service eligibility assessments and registry databases, provide powerful controls over potential selection mechanisms in the multivariate analyses. Furthermore, contrary to previous studies, the current study limits itself to subjects officially assessed and deemed eligible for community service sentences.


Imprisonment is associated with a higher rate of recidivism and the result is statistically significant at conventional statistical levels.


Community service (CS) compared to imprisonment appears to cause a lower reconviction rate in general. Additional research is needed to shed light on differences in time to failure, the effect of different types of CS and imprisonment, the relationship between time spent in CS and effect as well as the seriousness of offending following sentences of CS as compared to imprisonment.

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  1. 1.

    Clausen (2007) actually includes information on drug abuse and mental health issues. However, this information is based on official registry data and thus likely to suffer from underreporting.

  2. 2.

    Although it needs to be said that 32 % in detention group and 41 % of the restitution/CS group entered the experiment as a result of a felony conviction (Schneider 1986: 545).

  3. 3.

    An index date after 2009 means a 3-year observation period is not possible because crime information is solely available until 2012.

  4. 4.

    The age of criminal responsibility in Denmark is at age 15.

  5. 5.

    The two averages are significantly different according to a Z-test and based on information about 152 CS offenders and 102 offenders on parole as reported by local divisions of the Danish Prison and Probation Service from February 1 to April 1 2012 (Bien 2012:3). The averages in the full observation period are unknown.


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The author would like to thank the following list of individuals for contributing to the study in some way or another: Lin Adrian, Lars H. Andersen, Signe H. Andersen, Flemming Balvig, Susanne Clausen, Peter Fallesen, Carsten Henrichsen, Lars Holmberg, Stine L. Jensen, Tanja T. Jørgensen, Kristian B. Karlson, Britta Kyvsgaard, Anne-Julie B. Pedersen, Maria L. Pedersen, Jens H. Poulsen, three anonymous reviewers (especially reviewer three), and expressly Dave Sorensen. Furthermore, the author is grateful for the data analyzed in the study provided by Danish Prison and Probation Service.

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Correspondence to Christian Klement.



Table 6 Summary of estimates in the logistic regression on community service versus imprisonment. The variables used in this regression are exactly the same as used in the propensity score matching, which is used in the current study
Table 7 Summary of balance within the unmatched data
Table 8 Summary of balance within the matched data
Table 9 Summary of percent balance improvement from the unmatched to the matched data
Table 10 Summary of estimates in the logistic regression model with basic controls only in 1-year observation period
Table 11 Summary of estimates in the logistic regression model with basic controls only in 3-year observation period
Table 12 Summary of estimates in the logistic regression model with basic controls, index sentence length, and index age in 1-year observation period
Table 13 Summary of estimates in the logistic regression model with basic controls, index sentence length, and index age in 3-year observation period
Table 14 Goodness-of-fit measures for all 12 logistic regression models
Table 15 Likelihood ratio tests comparing the model with basic controls and the other models within each observation period

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Klement, C. Comparing the effects of community service and imprisonment on reconviction: results from a quasi-experimental Danish study. J Exp Criminol 11, 237–261 (2015).

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  • Community service
  • Imprisonment
  • Reoffending
  • Reconviction
  • Regression
  • Quasi-experiment
  • Denmark