By Ella Colbert
A study conducted by a UC Berkeley professor that was published Monday found that individuals sentenced to prison rather than probation were more likely to re-enter the prison system.
David Harding, a UC Berkeley associate professor of sociology, said he worked on the study with his three co-authors for about eight years. Harding and his colleagues collected data from more than 100,000 people who were sentenced for felonies in Michigan between 2003 and 2006. The study focuses on the idea of a prison’s “revolving door,” which it defines as the return of individuals recently released from prison.
The study shows that if people are sentenced to prison rather than probation, the probability of imprisonment in the first three years after release increases by 18 percent among nonwhite individuals and 19 percent among white individuals.
According to Harding, there has been a huge rise in incarceration in the United States since the 1970s. He said he was motivated to conduct the study because he was interested in looking at the consequences of mass incarceration.
“We estimated the first year someone is in prison only reduces the probability of committing (a) new felony by 8 percent,” Harding said. “All the incarceration we’re doing is not preventing crime in the future.”
Harding said the study found that the crimes individuals commit that send them back to prison are not “new crimes” — rather, many of these crimes are parole violations.
The study proposes two possible policy solutions to address this issue. The first proposal is to give parole violators alternative sanctions, as opposed to sending them back to prison. The second policy change the study recommends is to re-evaluate prison sentencing — the study suggests that probation sentences be given more frequently as opposed to incarceration.