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July 15, 2018

"Incarceration, Recidivism, and Employment"

The title of this post is the title of this paper recently posted to SSRN authored by a group of economists. Here is its abstract:

Understanding whether, and in what situations, time spent in prison is criminogenic or preventive has proven challenging due to data availability and correlated unobservables. This paper overcomes these challenges in the context of Norway’s criminal justice system, offering new insights into how incarceration affects subsequent crime and employment. We construct a panel dataset containing the criminal behavior and labor market outcomes of the entire population, and exploit the random assignment of criminal cases to judges who differ ystematically in their stringency in sentencing defendants to prison. Using judge stringency as an instrumental variable, we find that imprisonment discourages further criminal behavior, and that the reduction extends beyond incapacitation.

Incarceration decreases the probability an individual will reoffend within 5 years by 29 percentage points, and reduces the number of offenses over this same period by 11 criminal charges. In comparison, OLS shows positive associations between incarceration and subsequent criminal behavior. This Sharp contrast suggests the high rates of recidivism among ex-convicts is due to selection, and not a consequence of the experience of being in prison. Exploring factors that may explain the preventive effect of incarceration, we find the decline in crime is driven by individuals who were not working prior to incarceration. Among these individuals, imprisonment increases participation in programs directed at improving employability and reducing recidivism, and ultimately, raises employment and earnings while discouraging further criminal behavior. For previously employed individuals, while there is no effect on recidivism, there is a lasting negative effect on employment. Contrary to the widely embraced ‘nothing works’ doctrine, these findings demonstrate that time spent in prison with a focus on rehabilitation can indeed be preventive for a large segment of the criminal population.

July 15, 2018 at 03:14 PM | Permalink


Now if only there were enough resources to provide such programs in the prison settings. Unfortunately, running our overcrowded, understaffed prisons is so expensive that not even adequate health care or mental health treatment are readily available, never mind the education department wait lists.

Posted by: Jay Hurst | Jul 15, 2018 8:00:53 PM

This shows what everyone knew. Outside of incapacitation, there is a mild effect of incarceration on specific deterrence. Compare the effect of mortality, with its 100% specific deterrence.

This mortality effect has come to pass beyond the imagination of the most extreme advocate of the death penalty. I was thinking 10,000 would be a good number. The number today is 60,000 via the Chinese government subsidized export of carfentanyl, like for $3000 a kilo. The lethal dose of carfentanil may be 20mcg (micrograms) (50 million doses in a kilo). The lethal dose of pharma-grade fentanyl is 2mg (milligrams) (50,000 doses in a kilo).

All you prosecutors, all you defense lawyers, all you judges in the criminal law, start taking courses to become high school history teachers. If you can get a Masters in teaching, your income may go up.

Posted by: David Behar | Jul 15, 2018 11:23:33 PM

An idiot is an idiot, is an idiot, is an idiot.

Posted by: Claudio Giusti | Jul 16, 2018 8:24:05 AM

Claudio's anti-death penalty advocacy won me over. I do not support the death penalty anymore. That is not sarcasm. That is sincerity.

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Posted by: Anna Sally | Jul 27, 2018 9:18:56 AM

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