The Reduced Risk of Homicide Victimization: A Latent Effect of Incarceration?

Michael E. Ezell, Vanderbilt University

The treatment of prisons as a major research area in criminology has largely focused on the manifest functions of prisons in controlling crime. This paper, however, investigates whether prisons also have latent effects in the prevention fo crime, namely whether they lower the risk of homicide victimization among criminal offenders. Specifically, this paper examines the relationship between incarceration in a state prison and the risk of homicide victimization among three samples of offenders released from the California Youth Authority (in 1981-82, 1986-87, and 1991-92), using (1) mortality data from the California Vital Statistics and (2) data on the cases' incarceration "spells" in the California Department of Corrections. As of December 31, 1999, 331 of the total 5,101 cases were found to be deceased after release from the CYA, with 180 (54%) of these deaths classified as homicides. A counting process Cox proportional hazards model that accounts for time-varying nature of the incarceration "spells" is used to test the hypothesis of whether incarceration in a state prison reduces the hazard rate of homicide victimization.

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Updated 05/20/2006