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Harsh or Human? Detention Conditions and Recidivism

Author

Listed:
  • Giovanni Mastrobuoni

    (Collegio Carlo Alberto Torino and University of Essex)

  • Daniele Terlizzese

    (EIEF and Bank of Italy)

Abstract

The question of how prison conditions affect recidivism is very important.In designing a prison system, one would want to know the answer. There are two prevailing prison regimes, harsh and humane. We estimate the effect on recidivism of replacing time served in a harsh, closed-cell prison with time served in a humane, open-cell one, mimicking an experiment where the time spent in the open-cell prison as opposed to the closed-cell one is randomly assigned. We deal with the endogenous assignment of inmates to different prison regimes using variation that is driven by nearby prisons’ overcrowding. Switching regimes for a year, which represent 60 percent of the average sentence, reduces recidivism by around 6 percentage points, or 15 percent, which is a large effect compared to most other interventions aimed at reducing recidivism. The effects are largest for inmates with very low levels of education and are weak for hardened criminals. More than a single mechanism underlies these effects.

Suggested Citation

  • Giovanni Mastrobuoni & Daniele Terlizzese, 2014. "Harsh or Human? Detention Conditions and Recidivism," EIEF Working Papers Series 1413, Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance (EIEF), revised May 2018.
  • Handle: RePEc:eie:wpaper:1413
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Lawrence Katz & Steven D. Levitt & Ellen Shustorovich, 2003. "Prison Conditions, Capital Punishment, and Deterrence," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 5(2), pages 318-343, August.
    2. 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.
    3. Francesco Drago & Roberto Galbiati & Pietro Vertova, 2009. "The Deterrent Effects of Prison: Evidence from a Natural Experiment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 117(2), pages 257-280, April.
    4. Philip J. Cook & Stephen Machin & Olivier Marie & Giovanni Mastrobuoni, 2014. "Lessons from the economics of crime," CentrePiece - The Magazine for Economic Performance 410, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    5. Alessandro Barbarino & Giovanni Mastrobuoni, 2014. "The Incapacitation Effect of Incarceration: Evidence from Several Italian Collective Pardons," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 6(1), pages 1-37, February.
    6. 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.
    7. Jeffrey R. Kling, 2006. "Incarceration Length, Employment, and Earnings," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(3), pages 863-876, June.
    8. Patrick Bayer & Randi Hjalmarsson & David Pozen, 2009. "Building Criminal Capital behind Bars: Peer Effects in Juvenile Corrections," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(1), pages 105-147.
    9. Jesse M. Shapiro, 2007. "Do Harsher Prison Conditions Reduce Recidivism? A Discontinuity-based Approach," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 9(1), pages 1-29.
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    Cited by:

    1. Entorf, Horst & Sattarova, Liliya, 2016. "The Analysis of Prison-Prisoner Data Using Cluster-Sample Econometrics: Prison Conditions and Prisoners' Assessments of the Future," IZA Discussion Papers 10209, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

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