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Going Off Parole: How the Elimination of Discretionary Prison Release Affects the Social Cost of Crime


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  • Ilyana Kuziemko
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    In order to lengthen prison terms, many U.S. states have limited parole boards' traditional authority to grant early releases. I develop a framework in which the welfare effects of this reform depend on (1) the elasticity of future recidivism with respect to time in prison, (2) the accuracy of boards in conditioning release dates on recidivism risk, and (3) the extent to which such conditioning encourages inmates to reform. Using micro-data from Georgia and quasi-experimental variation arising from policy shocks and institutional features of its criminal justice system, I find that longer prison terms decrease recidivism, boards assign higher-risk inmates to longer terms, and inmates' investment in rehabilitative activities falls -- and their recidivism rises -- when boards' discretion is limited. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that the benefits of parole (the ability to ration prison resources based on recidivism risk and the creation of incentives) outweigh the costs (lost incapacitation due to shorter prison terms).

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13380.

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    Date of creation: Sep 2007
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    Publication status: published as Kuziemko, I. “ How Should Inmates Be Released From Prison? An Assessment of Parole Versus Fixed Sentence Regimes” Quarterly Journal of Economics 128, no. 1 (February 2013)
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13380

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    Cited by:
    1. Francesco Drago & Roberto Galbiati & Pietro Vertova, 2011. "Prison Conditions and Recidivism," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 13(1), pages 103-130.
    2. Maurin, Eric & Ouss, Aurelie, 2009. "Sentence Reductions and Recidivism: Lessons from the Bastille Day Quasi Experiment," IZA Discussion Papers 3990, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Dara N. Lee, 2011. "The Digital Scarlet Letter: The Effect of Online Criminal Records on Crime," Working Papers 1118, Department of Economics, University of Missouri.
    4. McCrary, Justin & Lee, David S., 2009. "The Deterrence Effect of Prison: Dynamic Theory and Evidence," Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics, Working Paper Series qt2gh1r30h, Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics.
    5. David S. Lee & Justin McCrary, 2009. "The Deterrence Effect of Prison: Dynamic Theory and Evidence," Working Papers 1168, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Center for Economic Policy Studies..


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