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Program Profile: Phoenix (Ariz.) Repeat Offender Program

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on June 15, 2011

Program Summary

A postarrest case-management program that used cooperation between police and prosecutors to increase the likelihood that high-risk chronic offenders would be convicted and incarcerated. The program is rated Promising. The experimental group was more likely to be sentenced to prison and have longer prison sentences. There was no statistically significant difference for conviction rates between the groups.

This program’s rating is based on evidence that includes at least one high-quality randomized controlled trial.

Program Description

Program Goals/Target Population
The Phoenix (Ariz.) Repeat Offender Program was designed to increase conviction and incarceration rates for chronic, high-risk offenders. This program was targeted at repeat offenders with extensive criminal histories in Phoenix, Ariz. The primary goal was to prosecute dangerous offenders to the full extent of the law resulting in incarceration, rather than merely arresting and booking. The program also sought to impose longer prison terms for convicted chronic offenders.

Program Components
Postarrest case management was used to target chronic offenders in the area. A Repeat Offender Unit was set up in the Phoenix Police Department to identify these offenders; their cases were then given special attention in the criminal justice process. This special attention included examining the criminal history and background information of the offender, conducting follow-up investigations, and interviewing witnesses and victims. The information was used to identify chronic offenders and help prosecutors build their cases against them in order to obtain convictions.

Key Personnel
Coordination between the Phoenix Police Department and the Maricopa County District Attorney’s Office was necessary to implement this program successfully. The Police Department collected and reviewed case information and sent it to the prosecutor’s office; the District Attorney’s office used this information to build a case against the offender.

Program Theory
The theory of the Phoenix (Ariz.) Repeat Offender Program is that since police resources are limited and in high demand, they should focus on the most serious and high-risk chronic offenders. Since a small number of repeat offenders commit a disproportionately large amount of crime, these offenders are a greater threat to public safety. Therefore, the program’s efforts to incarcerate high-risk offenders are an efficient way to allocate police resources and may be effective in reducing crime.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Conviction Rates
Abrahamse and colleagues (1991) found that, of the 248 offenders in the experimental group who were prosecuted, 223 were convicted, producing a conviction rate of 89.9 percent. Of the 177 offenders in the control group who were prosecuted, 153 were convicted, a conviction rate of 86.4 percent. The experimental group had a slightly higher rate of conviction compared to the control group, but this difference was not found to be statistically significant.

Likelihood of Imprisonment
In the experimental group, 162 of the 204 offenders sentenced to incarceration (79.4 percent) were sent to prison rather than jail. In the control group, 97 of the 143 offenders sentenced to incarceration (67.8 percent) were sent to prison rather than jail. Once they were convicted, the experimental group had a higher likelihood of being sentenced to prison.

Length of Prison Term Imposed
For the 162 offenders sentenced to prison in the experimental group, the mean sentence length was 91 months. For the 97 offenders sentenced to prison in the control group, the mean sentence length was 73 months. For those imprisoned in the experimental group, prison sentences were substantially longer, a finding that was statistically significant.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1

Abrahamse and colleagues (1991) conducted a randomized controlled trial to evaluate the impact of the Phoenix (Ariz.) Repeat Offender Program. To locate individuals for the program, nine criteria were examined of offenders in Phoenix: current criminal activity, substance abuse, lifestyle, probation failure, felony convictions, prior juvenile record, past informant activity, family background, and method of operation. This data was obtained from Phoenix Police Department records.


Using this information, eligible offenders were chosen and randomly assigned to the experimental or the control group. If arrested, offenders in the experimental group received special attention from the Repeat Offender Program by police and prosecutors, while offenders in the control group received no special attention and were handled with standard departmental procedures. The total sample was 473 assignments, with an experimental group of 270 assignments and a control group of 203. The higher amount of assignments in the experimental group did not affect the validity of the findings: the researchers compared the control group to the experimental group on prior records, probation and parole status, and pretrial custody status, and found no statistically significant differences.


From December 1988 to June 1989, every case had 6 months’ exposure to either the repeat offender program or standard operating procedures. In June 1989, a data collection team conducted a follow-up of the outcome of each case. The team examined which offenders were arrested, prosecuted, convicted, incarcerated, and imprisoned, and what sentences were imposed. The outcomes of the prosecuted cases were examined to determine the effectiveness of the repeat offender program on conviction rates, likelihood of incarceration and imprisonment, and sentence length. This information was obtained from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.

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There is no cost information available for this program.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1

Abrahamse, Allan, Patricia Ebener, Peter Greenwood, Nora Fitzgerald, and Thomas Kosin. 1991. “An Experimental Evaluation of the Phoenix Repeat Offender Program.” Justice Quarterly 8(2):141–68.

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Program Snapshot

Geography: Urban

Setting (Delivery): Other Community Setting, Courts

Program Type: Wraparound/Case Management

Targeted Population: Serious/Violent Offender, High Risk Offenders

Current Program Status: Not Active

Allan Abrahamse
Retired Mathematician
RAND Corporation
Phone: 562.430.3981