The Path to Prison: Can It Be Blocked?


Approximately one-third of inmates serving first-time prison sentences in New York had repeated contact with the criminal justice system in the 10 years preceding their incarceration—suggesting the system had potential opportunities to curtail their criminal activity via diversion programs—according to a study published in the American Society of Criminology journal Criminology & Public Policy. By contrast, nearly a quarter of the inmates had had very little contact with the system prior to incarceration.

The authors of “Pathways to Prison in New York State” found that 12 percent of the inmates had had significant contact with the criminal justice system, resulting in at least one arrest per year in the 10 years preceding incarceration.

“Determining how to divert these individuals from their criminal activities is a question as old as criminology,” write Sarah Tahamont, Shi Yan and Shawn D. Bushway, of the State University of New York at Albany, and Jing Liu, of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. “Although it is not the point of this article to detail how to divert these individuals from future criminal activity, our results do suggest that current criminal justice practices in New York result in churning many individuals through the system in a sustained cycle of arrest, conviction, and jail time. Each of these criminal justice contacts represents an opportunity to intervene and potentially to reduce the flow of individuals into prison in the future.”

Researchers looked at the records of 13,769 first-time inmates serving prison sentences between 2009 and 2012, who were 26 years of age and older, mostly male (92 percent) and mostly non-white (69 percent). Before the arrest that resulted in the prison sentence, the average individual had been arrested about six times (including 2.5 felony arrests and 3.7 misdemeanor arrests) and had been convicted slightly more than twice, but mostly for misdemeanors.

The full study is available for a fee HERE.

(Journalists who would like to access the study free of charge should email TCR Washington Bureau Chief Ted Gest at

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