The Behavior Analyst

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 243–256 | Cite as

Prison as Punishment: A Behavior-Analytic Evaluation of Incarceration

  • Alexis B. Apel
  • James W. DillerEmail author
Original Research


The USA currently imprisons over 2.2 million people (Glaze and Kaeble, 2014). Of those, about 70 % will be rearrested within 3 years of release (Durose, Cooper, & Synder, 2014). If prison is viewed as a large-scale intervention, it lacks empirical support of effectiveness. The present paper reviews criminological data related to incarceration and evaluates components of imprisonment in light of behavior-analytic research on punishment. These factors include elements such as the individual’s learning history and aspects of the punisher (e.g., intensity and immediacy). Partnering with other professionals, behavior analysts interested in this area could apply their skills in research and practice to help mitigate a large-scale problem of great social significance.


Behavior analysis Crime Prison Punishment Recidivism 



The authors would like to thank Mirari Elcoro and Paula Prentice for their helpful comments on a previous version of this manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or nonhuman animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Association for Behavior Analysis International 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyEastern Connecticut State UniversityWillimanticUSA
  2. 2.Boston CollegeChestnut HillUSA

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