As efforts to reduce the use of three-strikes sentencing—one of the most effective sentencing tools of the past century—continue, this UK study from Civitas, as reported in the UK Guardian, reaffirms the truth of a common-sense understanding in America as well as the UK: longer prison terms reduce crime as criminals are incapacitated for longer periods.

As a companion truth, rehabilitation does not occur in prison, as the US national recidivist rate—based on the most recent study—is 67.5%.

An excerpt from the Guardian article.

“Tougher prison sentences reduce crime, particularly burglary, according to ground-breaking research.

“The study, by academics at Birmingham University, also found that during periods when police detect more offences, crime tends to fall overall, suggesting that levels of police activity – and therefore of staffing – have a direct impact on criminal activity.

“The findings are likely to be seized on by critics of the government’s plans for reducing the number of police officers as part of spending cuts.

“The research, carried out for Civitas, an independent thinktank, used local sentencing data released by the Ministry of Justice under freedom of information requests to track the effectiveness of penal policy and policing on recorded crime across the 43 forces in England and Wales between 1993 and 2008.

“The researchers concluded 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 – from 15.4 to 16.4 months – would reduce burglaries in the following year by 4,800, out of an annual total of 962,700.

“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”.

“The study also estimates that a policy of 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.

“The findings tend to support the thrust of policies followed by the last Labour government, which increased funding to the police and concentrated on the roughly 100,000 persistent offenders responsible for a high proportion of crime. This approach increased the prison population, but it also led to reductions in overall levels of crime.

“By contrast, the current justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, often questions the relationship between criminal justice policy and the level of crime and suggests that economic factors may be just as, if not more, important. Clarke has been involved in a long-running dispute with one of his Tory predecessors, Michael Howard, whose mantra that “prison works” became associated with his time at the Home Office.”