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Recidivism among paroled homicide offenders: an examination of the effects of incarceration, social bonds, and offender characteristics York, Peter


The focus of this study is the sociological explanation of why some adult offenders recidivate while others do not. Specific deterrence (Beccaria, [1764] 1986; Bentham, [1789] 1961) and labeling (Lemert, 1967) theory predict that the severity of punishment has direct, although opposite effects on future criminal behavior. Alternatively, with their life course perspective, Sampson and Laub (1993) argue that it is more important to study the effects of informal mechanisms of social control on criminal behavior. The association between formal and informal mechanisms of social control and criminal behavior is examined with a sample of paroled homicide offenders. Most of these offenders will not recidivate, and follow-up periods vary extensively so survival analysis was chosen as the primary method of analysis. The most important finding in this study is that there is no evidence that longer periods of incarceration serve to deter offenders as predicted by specific deterrence theory. Instead, offenders who are incarcerated for longer periods of time are more likely to recidivate as predicted by Lemert's (1967) secondary deviance hypothesis. The results are partly explained by the fact that offenders who pose a higher risk of recidivating are incarcerated for longer periods of time. Limited support is found for Sampson and Laub's (1993) life course perspective. Married offenders are less likely to return to prison for any reason, but they are just as likely to be convicted of a property or violent crime while on parole. Level of education is not associated with the recidivism of offenders. Two policy issues are addressed in this study. First, homicide offenders present a very low risk of recidivism with 4 - 6% of offenders predicted to return to prison each year because they have been convicted of a property or violent offence. Secondly, risk assessment instruments are very effective at identifying homicide offenders who pose a higher risk of recidivism. The results show that the characteristics contributing to the recidivism of homicide offenders are not different from those associated with other types of offenders.

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