An article in the Guardian today highlighted a new report that ‘Tougher prison sentences reduce crime, particularly burglary.” 

The report  and it’s linked papers contradicts the views of Ken Clarke and Magistrates Association.

Research shows that that prison was particularly effective in reducing property crime when targeted at serious and repeat offenders. They concluded that an increase of just one month in the average sentence length for burglaries [1] would reduce burglaries in the following year by 4,800.
The report also argues that whilst theft is excluded because (although the effects suggest that increased sentences could produce a modest reduction in crime) the results are not statistically significant.  Similarly insignificant results were found for handling and for robbery.  

Other claims made by the research include:

 ·         increasing the average sentence length on already long sentences is more effective at reducing acquisitive crime than increasing the length of a short sentence.
 ·         Acknowledging that prison can have very different effects on different offenders, the report suggests that an optimal policy will:

  1. target repeat and serious offenders for long sentences while
  2. using alternatives to custody for other offenders.

 ·         For fraud, an increase in sentences from 9.7 to 10.7 months would result in a reduction of 4,700 offences a year, out of 242,400. The report declares this to be “a substantial effect, especially when we consider that the length of sentence usually corresponds to approximately half the actual time spent in custody.

 ·         forcing offenders to serve a higher proportion of their sentences in prison would have a further dramatic effect on cutting crime, in part because more offenders would be behind bars for longer. If offenders were made to serve two-thirds of their sentence in custody, rather than the current half, it suggests that there would be 21,000 fewer recorded burglaries and 11,000 fewer recorded frauds in England and Wales.’
Youth crime
On youth crime, the report says ‘there is some suggestive research arguing that young people in general may not be especially likely to engage in crime (see Martin, et. al, 2010). However, we should note that this remains an unproven hypothesis and there are other studies which have previously documented a positive relationship between young people and crime.’

A copy of the report can be downloaded here and a linked research by the same authors can be found here.

Reference to the main report: Bandyopadhyay S “Acquisitive Crime: Imprisonment, Detection and Social Factors Department of Economics, University of Birmingham (Civitas, London, Jul 2012)

[1] from 15.4 to 16.4 months