The Effect of Sanction Severity and Its Interaction With Procedural Justice

AuthorPeter H. Van Der Laan,Franziska M. Yasrebi-De Kom,Anja J. E. Dirkzwager,Paul Nieuwbeerta
Published date01 February 2022
Date01 February 2022
Subject MatterArticles
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, 2022, Vol. 49, No. 2, February 2022, 200 –219.
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© 2021 International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology
Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement
Leiden University
Recent scholarship suggests that detention may have differential effects depending on situational factors. This longitudinal
study tests an integrative theoretical framework with the aim to identify conditions under which detention deters from sub-
sequent rule-violating behavior. We examined whether effects of experienced sanction severity on subsequent misconduct
and reoffending behavior are dependent on procedural justice perceptions among Dutch adults in detention (n = 763 and
n = 765, respectively). The deterrent effect of sanction severity on misconduct was dependent on procedural justice.
Increased sanction severity only deterred from subsequent misconduct when treatment was perceived as procedurally neutral
to just. For individuals who were detained for the first time, a similar interaction effect was observed for reoffending behavior.
The results support the added value of integrating deterrence theory with situational characteristics (i.e., procedural justice)
to explain sanctioning effects and suggest that correctional staffs’ relationships with individuals in detention can contribute
to order in prison and beyond.
Keywords: deterrence; recidivism; procedural justice; longitudinal; prison
Crime results in considerable economic and social costs for individuals and society at
large (Cullen et al., 2011; Gifford, 2019). One way that society tries to reduce these negative
consequences of crime is by depriving people who committed a crime of their freedom
(Scott, 2007). One of the rationales behind this sanction is that detention is intended to
reduce future criminal behavior (Chalfin & McCrary, 2017). An undesired by-product of
detention is misconduct within correctional facilities, which interferes with the safety in
prisons (Jackson et al., 2010) and can result in health problems and decreased well-being
of both detained individuals (e.g., Baidawi et al., 2016) and correctional officers (e.g.,
AUTHORS’ NOTE: The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest. This project was funded by an
Open Competition grant of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO: 406.18.RB.011).
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Franziska M. Yasrebi-de Kom, Netherlands
Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement, P.O. Box 71304, 1008 BH Amsterdam, The Netherlands;
1038358CJBXXX10.1177/00938548211038358Criminal Justice and BehaviorYasrebi-de Kom et al. / Sanction Severity and Procedural Justice
Cheeseman et al., 2011; Steiner & Wooldredge, 2015). Misconduct has also been linked to
higher postrelease reoffending rates (Cochran & Mears, 2017). At present, both postrelease
recidivism and in-prison misconduct are relatively common (Abbiati et al., 2019; Yukhnenko
et al., 2019), which suggests that more information is needed on how these behaviors can
be successfully reduced. This study focuses on the effects of the perceived severity of deten-
tion on subsequent misconduct by individuals during detention and their postrelease reoff-
ending. The findings of the study will be valuable for the development of effective policies
to reduce these costly and unwanted behaviors (Gifford, 2019).
The idea that sanctions will reduce crime and other rule violations originates from the
deterrence theory (Beccaria, 1764/1819; Bentham, 1970/1982), which assumes that severe
sanctions such as detention will lower the probability of reengaging in criminal behavior
because it increases the costs associated with committing crimes (Chalfin & McCrary,
2017). Empirical research on the effects of (the experienced severity of) detention, how-
ever, shows mixed results, ranging from an overall null effect (e.g., Cullen et al., 2011;
Nagin & Snodgrass, 2013; Raaijmakers et al., 2017), or at best a weak deterrent effect on
reoffending (Crank & Brezina, 2013; Meade et al., 2013), to a mild criminogenic effect
(e.g., Cullen et al., 2011; Wermink et al., 2010). In sum, prior findings indicated that deten-
tion, or the experienced severity of detention, on its own does not consistently reduce sub-
sequent criminal behavior.
Partly due to these mixed results, the question of whether sanctions deter shifted toward
the question “. . . under what conditions or for which kind of persons they [deter] . . .”
(Piquero et al., 2011, p. 336). Following this line of reasoning, deterrent and criminogenic
effects of detention may not be mutually exclusive but rather detention may have differen-
tial effects on detained individuals, depending on their individual and/or situational charac-
teristics (Cullen et al., 2011; Sherman, 1993; Tomlinson, 2016). One situational characteristic
that may influence the effect of (the experienced severity of) detention on subsequent mis-
conduct and reoffending is how people feel treated by law enforcement authorities and,
more specifically, to what extent they feel treated in a procedurally just way. Recent empiri-
cal findings indicated that the deterrent effect of severe sanctions may indeed be dependent
on procedural justice (Augustyn & Ward, 2015; Verboon & van Dijke, 2011, 2012).
Sanctioning was found to be associated with higher rates of offending when treatment was
experienced as unjust, but not when treatment was experienced as just (Augustyn & Ward,
2015). Therefore, sanctioning combined with a fair treatment may contribute to the safety
both inside and outside correctional facilities. However, to the best of our knowledge,
Augustyn and Ward’s (2015) study is the only study that examined the interaction effect of
sanctioning and procedural justice among justice-involved individuals (i.e., youth). This
shows that, while the concept of sanction severity is influential in forming the criminal
justice system and its decision-making (Paternoster, 2010), many questions about its effects
and especially about its interaction effect with procedural justice remain unanswered for
populations that are responsible for the most severe crime (i.e., detained individuals).
This longitudinal study aims to fill this gap in knowledge by examining the effect of the
perceived severity of detention (sanction severity) and its dependency on procedural justice
on subsequent rule-violating behavior (i.e., misconduct and reoffending) within a sample of
Dutch males in detention. Analyses were based on longitudinal data from the Prison Project,
which included detailed information on measures of subjective severity of detention (SSD)
and perceived procedural justice (PPJ; 3 weeks after arrival in detention), self-reported

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