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Avoiding Convictions: Regression Discontinuity Evidence on Court Deferrals for First-Time Drug Offenders

Listed author(s):
  • Mueller-Smith, Michael

    ()

    (University of Michigan)

  • Schnepel, Kevin T.

    ()

    (University of Sydney)

This paper studies the causal impact of court deferrals, a legal strategy to help defendants avoid a felony conviction record, on the future criminal and labor market outcomes of first-time felony drug offenders. To accomplish this, we exploit two natural experiments in Harris County, Texas, in which defendants appearing in court one day versus the next experienced abruptly different likelihoods of deferral. In 1994 deferral rates dropped by 34 percentage points the day following the implementation of a penal code reform; in 2007 deferral rates increased by 22 percentage points the day after the unexpected failure of a ballot initiative to expand the county jail. Using administrative data and local polynomial regression discontinuity methods, we find robust evidence consistent across both experiments that regimes with expanded use of court deferrals generated substantially lower rates of reoffending and unemployment over a five-year follow-up period. Additional analysis delves further into the timing, nature and incidence of these impacts. Together our results suggest that increasing the use of deferral programs may be an attractive and feasible option for a jurisdiction seeking to reduce the fiscal cost and community impact of its criminal justice system.

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File URL: http://ftp.iza.org/dp10409.pdf
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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 10409.

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Length: 78 pages
Date of creation: Dec 2016
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp10409
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  1. Devah Pager, 2003. "The mark of a criminal record," Natural Field Experiments 00319, The Field Experiments Website.
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  9. 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.
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  12. Steven Raphael, 2014. "The New Scarlet Letter? Negotiating the U.S. Labor Market with a Criminal Record," Books from Upjohn Press, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, number nsc, June.
  13. Anna Aizer & Joseph J. Doyle, 2015. "Juvenile Incarceration, Human Capital, and Future Crime: Evidence from Randomly Assigned Judges," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 130(2), pages 759-803.
  14. 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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  16. Hilary Hoynes & Douglas L. Miller & Jessamyn Schaller, 2012. "Who Suffers during Recessions?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 26(3), pages 27-48, Summer.
  17. Keith Finlay, 2009. "Effect of Employer Access to Criminal History Data on the Labor Market Outcomes of Ex-Offenders and Non-Offenders," NBER Chapters,in: Studies of Labor Market Intermediation, pages 89-125 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Kuziemko, Ilyana & Levitt, Steven D., 2004. "An empirical analysis of imprisoning drug offenders," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(9-10), pages 2043-2066, August.
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  22. David S. Abrams, 2012. "Estimating the Deterrent Effect of Incarceration Using Sentencing Enhancements," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 4(4), pages 32-56, October.
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