A Test Of Incapacitation Theory On Burglars

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


The 3552 defendants charged with a burglary in Dade County, Florida in 1982 were the subjects used to test the effects of incapacitative-based sentencing schemes. Burglars were chosen because of their propensity to recidivate. Sentences on one, three, and five years were hypothetically applied to the 1982 cohort at their last felony or burglary conviction to determine if their 1982 crime would have been prevented by incapacitation. Using a formula devised by Petersilia and Greenwood, possible increases in Florida prison inmates were calculated for the three mandatory sentences based on the 1451 previously convicted 1982 defendants. In addition, a separate cohort of 1975 convicted burglars were used to determine "false positives", those subjects who might have been incapacitated even though they experienced no subsequent arrest or conviction.Results from the 1982 cohort indicated that 77.5% of the defendants charged with 74.1% of the burglaries would not have been affected by incapacitation since they had not been convicted of a felony for the five years prior to 1982 and were thus not eligible to have been incapacitated. The percentage of crimes that would have been prevented by the various sentencing schemes ranged from 5.5% for a one-year sentence if applied at the last burglary conviction to 25.9% for a five-year sentence applied at the last conviction for any felony. The increases in prison population ranged from -8% for a one-year sentence, although 160% more defendants would have entered the state prison system, to 359% for a five-year sentence. Of the 1975 convictees, those not re-arrested (in Dade County, Florida) for a felony over a five-year period totaled 48% of the cohort. Those not re-arrested for a burglary in that time period totaled 73% of the cohort.Overall, the low percentage of crimes prevented would be difficult to justify in terms of expended resources, both financial (prison increases) and human ("false-positives").The author also examines the policy implications of selective incapacitation and the varying reactions to it.


Sociology, Criminology and Penology

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