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Should Repeat Offenders Be Punished More Severely for Their Crimes? [2017]

Debate persists as to the amount of influence criminal history should have in determining the severity of imposed legal sanction for a criminal offense. One position maintains that the punishment for repeat and first-time offenders convicted for the same type of offense should be similar, whereas an alternative viewpoint argues that the state should sanction repeat offenders more harshly. We contribute to this discourse by investigating whether the amount of weight given to an offender’s prior criminal record in sentencing affects the likelihood of repeat offending. Although initial findings showed that a substantive negative bivariate relationship existed at the county level between the weight-accorded prior criminal record in sentencing and repeat offending, this association disappeared in a more sophisticated nonlinear multilevel analysis. Our findings suggest that sanctioning repeat offenders more harshly than first-time offenders for similar offenses has little effect on attenuating repeat offending once other factors are controlled.

Stewart J. D’Alessio, Lisa Stolzenberg
Criminal Justice Policy Review, April 3, 2017
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