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How should inmates be released from prison? An assessment of parole versus fixed-sentence regimes

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  • Ilyana Kuziemko

Abstract

Over the past 30 years, many states have abolished parole boards, which traditionally have had the discretion to release inmates before the expiration of their full sentence, in favor of fixed-sentence regimes in which the original sentence is binding. However, if prison time lowers recidivism risk and if parole boards can accurately estimate inmates' recidivism risk, then relative to a fixed-sentence regime, parole can provide allocative-efficiency benefits (costly prison space is allocated to the highest-risk offenders) and incentive benefits (prisoners know they must reduce their recidivism risk to gain an early release, so invest in their own rehabilitation). Exploiting quasi-experiments from the state of Georgia, I show that prison time reduces recidivism risk and that parole boards set prison time in an allocatively efficient manner. Prisoners respond to these incentives; after a reform that eliminated parole for certain offenders, they accumulated a greater number of disciplinary infractions, completed fewer prison rehabilitative programs, and recidivated at higher rates than inmates unaffected by the reform. I estimate that eliminating parole for all prisoners would increase the prison population by 10% while also increasing the crime rate through deleterious effects on recidivism. JEL Codes: H76, K14, K40. Copyright 2013, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Ilyana Kuziemko, 2013. "How should inmates be released from prison? An assessment of parole versus fixed-sentence regimes," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 128(1), pages 371-424.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:qjecon:v:128:y:2013:i:1:p:371-424
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    Cited by:

    1. Ozkan Eren & Naci Mocan, 2017. "Juvenile Punishment, High School Graduation and Adult Crime: Evidence from Idiosyncratic Judge Harshness," NBER Working Papers 23573, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Bodenhorn, Howard, 2016. "Prison crowding, recidivism, and early release in early Rhode Island," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 59(C), pages 55-74.
    3. Joshua Hall & Kaitlyn Harger & Dean Stansel, 2015. "Economic Freedom and Recidivism: Evidence from US States," International Advances in Economic Research, Springer;International Atlantic Economic Society, vol. 21(2), pages 155-165, May.
    4. Shamena Anwar & Hanming Fang, 2015. "Testing for Racial Prejudice in the Parole Board Release Process: Theory and Evidence," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(1), pages 1-37.
    5. Anaïs Henneguelle & Benjamin Monnery & Annie Kensey, 2016. "Better at Home than in Prison? The Effects of Electronic Monitoring on Recidivism in France," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 59(3), pages 629-667.
    6. Mitchell Polinsky, A., 2015. "Deterrence and the optimality of rewarding prisoners for good behavior," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(C), pages 1-7.
    7. Rafael Di Tella & Ernesto Schargrodsky, 2013. "Criminal Recidivism after Prison and Electronic Monitoring," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 121(1), pages 28-73.
    8. Manudeep, Bhuller & Dahl, Gordon B. & Løken, Katrine V. & Mogstad, Magne, 2016. "Incarceration, recidivism and employment," Working Papers in Economics 07/16, University of Bergen, Department of Economics.
    9. Yang, Crystal S., 2017. "Local labor markets and criminal recidivism," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 147(C), pages 16-29.
    10. repec:kap:iaecre:v:21:y:2015:i:2:p:155-165 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Galbiati, Roberto & Ouss, Aurélie & Philippe, Arnaud, 2017. "Jobs, News and Re-offending after Incarceration," IAST Working Papers 17-71, Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse (IAST).
    12. Alain Cohn & Michel André Maréchal & Thomas Noll, 2015. "Bad Boys: How Criminal Identity Salience Affects Rule Violation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 82(4), pages 1289-1308.
    13. Arlen Guarin & Carlos Medina & Jorge Andres Tamayo, 2013. "The Effects of Punishment of Crime in Colombia on Deterrence, Incapacitation, and Human Capital Formation," Research Department Publications IDB-WP-420, Inter-American Development Bank, Research Department.
    14. Munyo, Ignacio & Rossi, Martín A., 2015. "First-day criminal recidivism," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, pages 81-90.
    15. Tyrefors Hinnerich, Björn & Palme, Mårten & Priks, Mikael, 2017. "Age-Dependent Court Sentences and Crime Bunching: Empirical Evidence from Swedish Administrative Data," Working Paper Series 1163, Research Institute of Industrial Economics.
    16. Magnus Lofstrom & Steven Raphael, 2016. "Crime, the Criminal Justice System, and Socioeconomic Inequality," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 30(2), pages 103-126, Spring.
    17. Giovanni Mastrobuoni & Daniele Terlizzese, 2014. "Harsh or Humane - Detention Conditions and Recidivism," EIEF Working Papers Series 1413, Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance (EIEF), revised Oct 2017.
    18. Mitchell Hoffman & Lisa B. Kahn & Danielle Li, 2015. "Discretion in Hiring," NBER Working Papers 21709, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    19. Pyne, Derek, 2015. "Can early release both reduce prison costs and increase deterrence?," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 135(C), pages 69-71.
    20. Crystal S. Yang, 2015. "Free at Last? Judicial Discretion and Racial Disparities in Federal Sentencing," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(1), pages 75-111.
    21. repec:aea:aejpol:v:9:y:2017:i:2:p:1-27 is not listed on IDEAS
    22. Ater, Itai & Givati, Yehonatan & Rigbi, Oren, 2014. "Organizational structure, police activity and crime," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 115(C), pages 62-71.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H76 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - Other Expenditure Categories
    • K14 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Criminal Law
    • K40 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - General

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