No Evidence of Specific Deterrence under Penal Moderation: Imprisonment and Recidivism in Finland

Reino Sirén, Jukka Savolainen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations


International literature on prison effects on recidivism tends to find little evidence of specific deterrence. If anything, imprisonment seems more likely to increase than decrease rates of offending. The present study adds to this literature by examining imprisonment and recidivism in Finland, a nation characterized by an exceptionally moderate penal culture. It has been suggested that severe sanctions need to be imposed selectively in order for them to be effective. In this research, we estimated the impact of first imprisonment on recidivism in comparison with offenders sentenced to either suspended imprisonment or community service. Using data from government population registries, we controlled for a large number of legal and extra-legal confounding factors, including criminal history and socio-demographic characteristics. We found no evidence of reduced recidivism as a result of imprisonment. Instead, consistent with prior research, we find evidence of increased recidivism in certain offender categories. We conclude with a discussion of policy implications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)80-97
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2013



  • Finland
  • Imprisonment
  • Recidivism
  • Scandinavia
  • Sentencing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law

Cite this