The Effect of Perceptions of Sanctions on Offenders in the Breaking the Cycle Demonstration Project: Tacoma, WA and Jacksonville, FL

Alexa Hirst, The Urban Institute
Adele V. Harrell, The Urban Institute

This paper examines the effect of experience on perceptions of sanction certainty and the detererent effect of sanctions on program compliance for a group of felony offenders in the Breaking the Cycle (BTC) program. Deterrence research has found that an offender's prior experience in the justice system or receiving sanctions can affect (a) perceptions that sanctions are likely to follow current programmatic infractions and (b) compliance with programmatic mandates. This paper analyzes responses to a deterrence questionnaire administered to nearly 1000 felony defendants in the comparison and treatment groups of the evaluation of Breaking the Cycle (a drug intervention strategy that involves judicial and programmatic sanctions). Perceptions of sanctions were measured at baseline and nine months after recruitment. For all sample members, responses are analyzed, first, to determine if perceptions of sanction certainty were affected by whether the defendants (or someone they knew) had ever received a sanction. Second, the relationship between certainty and severity of sanctions and outcomes and compliance was examined.

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Updated 05/20/2006