Release Date: May 13, 2021
Contact:  Michael Rushford
(916) 446-0345

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Claims that “science and data” show that shorter sentences for violent and habitual criminals promote public safety has no basis in published research, says legal foundation

Researchers at the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation (CJLF), a California-based law and policy group, have released a working paper which indicates that there is no scientific support for claims that longer sentences for repeat offenders makes them more likely to commit new crimes when released.

While this claim has been made recently by Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón as support for his “Special Directives” to seek shorter sentences for repeat offenders and reductions of sentences for previously convicted inmates, it has also been made by sentencing reform advocates and repeated uncritically by some news media.

For example, a December 9, 2016 story in the New York Times cited a Brennan Center report “which argued that longer prison terms may, in fact, increase the probability that inmates — particularly low-level offenders — will commit crimes after their release.” However, that report cited only a New York Times editorial’s description of research to support that claim.

CJLF undertook a review of published research on this subject to determine if, in fact, studies do actually show that longer prison sentences somehow encourage criminals to commit new crimes upon release. The Foundation’s working paper, Sentence Length and Recidivism: A Review of the Research, co-authored by CJLF Research Associate Elizabeth Berger and Legal Director Kent Scheidegger, concluded that they do not.

“There is no basis at all in the published research for the claim that longer sentences for those sentenced to some prison time have a strong effect of increasing recidivism,” said Berger. “Most studies on the effect of sentence length find either no effect or an effect in the other direction, reducing recidivism.”

“Claims about what the science shows in this area is a blatant misrepresentation,” said Scheidegger. “The state of our knowledge in this area is still limited, but what we do know tends to refute rather than support these claims.”

CJLF’s working paper, Sentence Length and Recidivism: A Review of the Research, is available at

CJLF Research Associate Elizabeth Berger
is available for comment at (916) 446-0345.