Prison does nothing to deter criminals convicted of burglary or assault and may actually increase their risk of re-offending, a government study has found.
The study by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics (BOCSAR) released on Tuesday, examined the effect of prison compared to a non-custodial sentence.
Researchers matched 96 pairs of convicted burglars and 406 pairs of offenders charged with non-aggravated assault for the study.
One member of each pair had been given a full-time prison sentence for their crimes, while the other received some form of non-custodial penalty.
All offenders were exactly matched on offence type, number of concurrent offences, prior prison experience, number of prior appearances in court and bail status at final appearance.
The study found that offenders who were given a prison sentence were slightly more likely to re-offend than whose who did not go to jail.
The difference was just statistically significant for non-aggravated assault but not significant for burglary.
BOCSAR director Dr Don Weatherburn said the results were consistent with a growing body of evidence suggesting prison either did nothing to deter offenders or increased the risk of re-offending.
"This does not mean that prison should be abandoned and all prisoners set free," he said.
"Prison can be justified on other grounds, such as punishment and incapacitation.
"The present study simply shows that sending people convicted of assault or burglary to prison is no more effective in changing their behaviour than putting them on some form of community-based order.
"It might in fact be slightly worse."