The incapacitation effect of incarceration refers to the crimes that are prevented while an offender is incarcerated. Incapacitation is the only method for which there is clear evidence that incarceration can reduce crime rates. Offenders differ greatly in their individual crime rates. There are a number of individual characteristics, such as age at first conviction or percent of the time incarcerated in the past, that can be used to identify the high-rate offenders. In order to maximize the incapacitation effects achieved by any given level of incarceration, sentencing policies should be designed to insure that high-rate offenders are the most likely to be sentenced to prison and serve the longest terms. In California it was found that it was possible to reduce the robbery rate by 15 percent, and the number of robbers incarcerated by 5 percent, by decreasing terms for low-rate offenders and increasing terms for high-rate offenders.
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