Criminal punishment and violent injury in Minnesota

N. Jeanie Santaularia, Ryan Larson, Christopher Uggen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Violence is one of the leading causes of injury and death in the United States. One-way society attempts to eliminate violence is through criminal punishment. Yet, in many contexts, punishment fails to reduce violence and may cause other harms. Current research on violence often suffers from same-source bias which can produce spurious associations. This study assesses the associations of different forms of criminal punishment (monetary sanctions, incarceration, and probation) with violent injuries in two unique datasets. Methods: This study examines a unique combination of hospital discharge data and court administrative data, two Minnesota county-level data sources. First, we assess the spatial distribution of the three criminal punishment variables and two violent injury variables, violent injury overall and violent injury in children by county from 2010 to 2014, using Moran’s I statistic and Local Indicators of Spatial Autocorrelation. Then we assess the association of criminal punishment on violent injury and child abuse injury using a two-way fixed effects panel models. Results: Child abuse injuries are relatively rare in our data but are significantly concentrated geographically, unlike violent injuries which are more dispersed throughout Minnesota. Incarceration and probation are significantly geographically concentrated in similar regions while monetary sanctions are not geographically concentrated. We find a link between probation loads and violent injury, specifically, with a 1 day increase in per capita probation supervision associated with a 0.044 increase in violent injury incidence per 1000 people. In contrast, monetary sanctions and incarceration loads have little association with either violent injury or child abuse injury incidence. Conclusions: Criminal punishment is intended to reduce harm in society, but many argue that it may bring unintended consequences such as violence. This study finds that county-level probation has a modest positive association with county-level violent injury rates, but monetary sanctions and incarceration are less associated with violence injury rates. No measure of criminal punishment was associated with a reduction in violence. This study addresses a gap in previous literature by examining the association of punishment and violence in two unrelated datasets. High rates of criminal punishment and violent injury are both urgent public health emergencies. Further individual-level investigation is needed to assess potential links.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number11
JournalInjury Epidemiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Child abuse
  • Criminal punishment
  • Hospital discharge data
  • Violent injury

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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