Estimating Mean Length of Stay in Prison: Methods and Applications

Patterson, Evelyn; Preston, Samuel
March 2008
Journal of Quantitative Criminology;Mar2008, Vol. 24 Issue 1, p33
Academic Journal
This paper examines various approaches to studying the mean length of stay in prison. The literature contains a wide range of estimates of this quantity. The discrepancies that appear in these estimates and in the conclusions reached from them have been the subject of several reviews. We build upon that work, using the life table as the gold standard, to demonstrate the inaccuracy of common measures such as the ratio of the population size to the annual number of entrances or the mean length of time served by those exiting in a particular period. This demonstration is conducted in two parts. One part uses model populations with constant growth rates; the second part relies upon simulated prison populations with time-varying rates of entrance and exit. In addition, we introduce two new indirect measures that are more accurate than several existing indirect measures and that are relatively easy to use. The new measures are based on the entrance rate or the exit rate and adjust for the growth rate of the prison population.


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