Whether incarceration heightens an individual’s likelihood of recidivating is at the center of prison policy discussions. Yet rigorous empirical studies on the nature of the incarceration—recidivism link are limited. As a whole, existing research suggests that the effect of imprisonment, relative to noncustodial sanctions, is either null or slightly criminogenic. These findings call into question the ability of prisons to exert a specific deterrent effect. They also suggest that prisons are failing to address the underlying causes of recidivism among inmate populations. An important consideration, however, is the extent to which the effects of imprisonment are heterogeneous. The current discussion further unpacks the effect of prison by considering whether and how imprisonment influences the risk of violent recidivism. This Article reviews the different theoretical perspectives invoked to explain the association between incarceration and future violence, as well as the existing research evidence. This Article concludes with implications for theory, research, and policy.

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