Document Type

Capstone Project

Publication Date

Summer 8-12-2020


Stevenson Center, crime, jail, incarceration, prison, McLean County

First Advisor

Dr. Hassan Mohammadi


The relationship between crime and incarceration is growing in interest in the United States. The United States incarceration rate is often double or triple the rate of other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. The hardline approach the United States has taken on crime has many citizens and academics questioning its effectiveness on achieving safer communities. Traditional theory suggests incarcerating individuals for deviant behavior reduces the crime rate through the mechanisms of incapacitation, deterrence, rehabilitation, and retribution. However, some scholars believe concentration of incarceration in neighborhoods disrupts the social fabric of the neighborhood and produces the opposite of its intended effect. There are numerous studies that test the relationship between crime and incarceration using datasets aggregated at the national, state, and county level. These studies support the theory of a negative relationship between crime and incarceration. A limited number of studies have been conducted at the neighborhood level, however, because data at this scale is harder to obtain. The few studies that have been conducted at the neighborhood level indicate the relationship may be positive and/or non-linear. They depict a scenario in which an increase in incarceration results in a decrease in crime, but only to a certain point. Once this inflection point is reached, further incarceration will destabilize the neighborhood and crime will increase. This paper examines this incarceration-crime relationship using a newly constructed panel dataset of neighborhood-level data from McLean County, Illinois for the period of 2013-2017. The results of this research indicate a significant positive and non-linear relationship between crime and incarceration. Understanding the “true” relationship between crime and incarceration could have major impacts on how local governments approach policing and incarceration.