1st Edition

Punishment and Crime The Limits of Punitive Crime Control

By Gary Kleck, Brion Sever Copyright 2018
    348 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    348 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book summarizes and synthesizes a vast body of research on the effects of legal punishment and criminal behavior. Covering studies conducted between 1967 and 2015, Punishment and Crime evaluates the assertion that legal punishment reduces crime by investigating the impacts, both positive and negative, of legal punishment on criminal behavior, with emphasis on the effects of punitive crime control policies via the mechanisms of deterrence and incapacitation.

    Brion Sever and Gary Kleck, author of the renowned Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America, present a literature review on legal punishment in the United States that is unparalleled in depth and scope. This text is a must-read for students, researchers, and policymakers concerned with the fields of corrections and crime prevention.

    Punishment and Crime

    List of Tables


    Chapter 1 – Introduction

      • The Scope of the Book

      • The Historical Context: Recent American Trends in Punishment

      • American Punishment Levels Compared to Other Nations

      • A Word About Meta-analysis


    Chapter 2 – Theory: The Mechanisms by Which Legal Punishment Might Reduce Crime

      • Theoretically Plausible Mechanisms by Which Legal Punishment Could Affect Crime

      • The Conditions Under Which Punishment is Most Likely to Deter Crime
        • Properties of Punishment that Could Condition its Deterrent Impact

        • Attributes of Prospective Offenders that Could Condition the Deterrent Effect of Punishment
        • Situational Factors that Could Condition the Deterrent Effect of Punishment Threats

      • Nonlinearity of the Effects of Punishment – Threshold and Diminishing Returns


    Chapter 3 – Deterrence and the Rational Choice Model of Criminal Behavior –

    The Case of the Disappearing Theory

      • The Rational Choice Model

      • The Significance of Limits on Information

      • Weak or Invalid Criticisms of the Model

      • Arguably Valid Criticisms of the Model

      • Stronger Criticisms of the Model

      • What Kinds of Behavior Do Accord with the Rational Choice Model?

      • The Disappearing Theory

      • Is Street Crime "Rational" in the Sense of Yielding More Benefit than Cost?
      • The Implications of Constricted Rationality for Target Selection, Situational Crime

    Prevention, and Crime Displacement

      • The Predictive Ability of the Rational Choice Model of Criminal Behavior
      • Conclusions

    Chapter 4 – General Methodological Problems in Punishment Research

      • Common Methodological Problems of Macro-Level Studies

        • Aggregate Objective Risks as Proxies for Individual Subjective Perceptions of Risks
        • Causal Order – Two-way Causation Between Crime and Punishment

        • Confounding Factors – The Degree of Social Condemnation of Crime
        • Confusing Deterrence with Displacement
        • Ratio Variables, Measurement Error, and Artifactual Associations
        • Distinguishing Deterrent Effects of Punishment from Incapacitative Effects

      • Common Methodological Problems of Individual-Level Studies

        • Measurement of the Dependent Variable - Measuring Criminal Behavior through Self-Reports

        • Measuring the Chief Independent Variables – Perceptions of Punishment Risks

        • Should Tests of Deterrence Be Offense-Specific?

        • Causal Order and Two-Way Effects
        • Vignette Methods
        • Panel Studies, the Time Interval Between Waves, and Two-way Causation

        • Failing to Control for Informal Controls
        • The Use of Convenience Samples of Low-Criminality Middle-Class Students

        • Unmeasured Criminal Propensity Differences in Studies of Special


        • The Evolution of Research Methods on Deterrence

    Chapter 5 – Individual-Level Research on General Deterrence – The Impact of Perceptions

    of Legal Risk on Criminal Behavior


    Chapter 6 – Individual-Level Research on the Effects of Punishment on the Punished –

    Special Deterrence

      • The Effect of the Experience of Punishment on Later Offending

      • The Effect of the Experience of Punishment on Perceptions of Legal Risk

      • What Does Affect Perceptions of Legal Risk? Whose Perceptions are Most Affected?

    Chapter 7 – Macro-Level Research on the Effect of Punishment Levels

      • The Impact of Levels of Certainty of Punishment on Crime Rates

      • The Impact of Levels of Severity of Punishment on Crime Rates

      • The Impact of Levels of Swiftness of Punishment on Crime Rates

    Chapter 8 - The Impact of Capital Punishment on Murder Rates

      • The Impact of the existence of death penalty statues

      • The Impact of Execution Frequency

    - The Short-term Impact of Executions

    - The Impact of Publicity about Executions

    Chapter 9 – The Missing Link Between Macro-Level and Individual-Level Effects: The

    Impact of Macro-level Punishment Levels on Individual Perceptions of Legal


    Chapter 10 – Incapacitative Effects of Incarceration and the Impact of Imprisonment



    Chapter 11 – Crime-Increasing Effects of Punishment

    - Labeling Effects on Self-Concept – Identity Transformation

      • Stigmatization and Social Isolation of the Punished from the Law-Abiding

      • Structural Impediments to Conventional Paths to Success: Blocking of Educational

    and Employment Opportunities

      • Effects of Incarceration on Inmates –Hardening of Pro-Criminal Attitudes, Increased

    Knowledge of Criminal Techniques

      • Effects of Incarceration on Children and Spouses of Inmates

      • Effects of Mass Incarceration on Communities of the Punished

      • Diversion of Resources from Other Crime-Reducing Efforts

    Chapter 12 – Conclusions

      • Summary of the Effects of Punishment on Crime

    - Retribution – The Thirst that Can Never be Quenched

    Policy Implications

      • General Principles of Smart Punishment – Making the Best Use of Punishment


        • Increases in certainty are more likely to reduce crime than increases in


        • Severity is the Enemy of Certainty
        • The Crime Control Returns of Punishment Eventually Diminish
        • The Prisons Will Always Be Full – One Criminal In Means One Let Out

      • Specific Implications for Public Policy
        • Repeal mandatory minimum penalties, mandatory Add-On Penalties, Three-Strikes laws, and other severity-oriented provisions that force waste of punishment resources
        • Minimize use of prison for drug offenses and other market crimes
        • Substitute intermediate sanctions for incarceration, for low and moderate serious offenses, such as day fines for property crimes, probation with frequent drug monitoring for drug-related crimes
        • Ration prison sentences available to each local court

      • Alternatives to Punitive Crime Control
        • Expand Cost-Effective Treatment Accompanying and Following Punishment
        • Expand Treatment in the Community, esp. for drug offenders
        • Job Training Linked with Jobs Creation
        • Support for Families – Child care, parent training, role model programs



    Gary Kleck is David J. Bordua Professor Emeritus at Florida State University. He earned a Ph.D. and M.A. in Sociology from the University of Illinois and a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Illinois. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America, which won the 1991 Michael J. Hindelang Award of the American Society of Criminology.

    Brion Sever is Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Florida Gulf Coast University. Previously, he taught for sixteen years at Monmouth University. He earned a Ph.D. in Criminology from Florida State University. He has published research in over a dozen journals, including Criminology, Police Quarterly, and the Journal of Criminal Justice Education.


    'Punishment and Crime is a monumental contribution to our understanding of the effects of punishment-oriented crime policies on criminal behavior. Co-authors Gary Kleck and Brion Sever offer a rigorous systematic analysis of the theories of deterrence and incapacitation, along with other rationales for punishment. In crystal clear language, the authors provide valuable insights into the subtle variations within, for example, the theory of deterrence, and also the complex methodological issues that affect studies of punishment theories. Most important, the co-authors carefully weigh the major theories against the evidence related to their effectiveness. In the current national reassessment of this country’s decades-long plunge into massive use of incarceration, Punishment and Crime commands the attention of everyone who seeks to speak knowledgeably about the subject.'Samuel Walker, Emeritus Professor, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Nebraska, Omaha

    'Kleck and Sever have given scholars interested in deterrence, punishment, and crime everything we could have hoped for in one package: a comprehensive, systematic review of the empirical evidence on all matters related to one of criminology’s most central perspectives. Read this book.'Alex R. Piquero, Ashbel Smith Professor of Criminology, The University of Texas at Dallas

    'Punishment and Crime provides a comprehensive, compelling and challenging assessment of the assumptions, theoretical expectations and empirical evidence relating to all aspects of the debate over the deterrent effects of punishment. The issues are so basic to the field of criminology and the policies of crime control that it is a must-read for scholars, researchers, policy analysts, and policy makers alike. Kleck and Sever have likely changed how these issues are discussed and thought about from this point forward.'Ted Chiricos, William Julius Wilson Professor of Criminology, Florida State University

    'Gary Kleck’s Punishment and Crime fills two major criminological needs. It offers a nuanced and sophisticated assessment of rational choice theory that addresses both its theoretical coherence and empirical support (or lack thereof), and a methodologically rigorous appraisal of the empirical evidence regarding the impact criminal sanctions such as imprisonment and capital punishment have on crime. Building on this analysis, Kleck develops a critique of American penal policy and lays out proposals for reform. Every criminologist concerned with crime causation theory or penal policy needs to read this book.'David F. Greenberg, Professor of Sociology, New York University

    'This is a comprehensive summary of research on punishment, stressing the pitfalls in research design and incompleteness of theory. Important concerns are the assumptions behind regression designs, the meaningfulness of interview responses in individual-level research, and causal order (simultaneity) difficulties in all types of research. The book should be the starting point for those planning a research project involving punishment and for those evaluating others' research.'Thomas Marvell, Justec Research