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Incarceration, Recidivism, and Employment

Author

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  • Bhuller, Manudeep

    () (University of Oslo)

  • Dahl, Gordon B.

    () (University of California, San Diego)

  • Loken, Katrine Vellesen

    () (Norwegian School of Economics)

  • Mogstad, Magne

    () (University of Chicago)

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 systematically 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Bhuller, Manudeep & Dahl, Gordon B. & Loken, Katrine Vellesen & Mogstad, Magne, 2018. "Incarceration, Recidivism, and Employment," IZA Discussion Papers 11645, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp11645
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    Cited by:

    1. Crin�, Rosario & Immordino, Giovanni & Piccolo, Salvatore, 2017. "Marginal Deterrence at Work," CEPR Discussion Papers 12023, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. 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.
    3. Gaurav Khanna & Carlos Medina & Anant Nyshadham & Jorge Tamayo, 2018. "Formal Employment and Organized Crime: Regression Discontinuity Evidence from Colombia," Borradores de Economia 1054, Banco de la Republica de Colombia.
    4. repec:iza:izawol:journl:y:2017:n:399 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. repec:aea:aecrev:v:108:y:2018:i:2:p:201-40 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Bhuller, Manudeep & Dahl, Gordon B & Løken, Katrine V. & Mogstad, Magne, 2018. "Incarceration Spillovers in Criminal and Family Networks," Discussion Paper Series in Economics 15/2018, Norwegian School of Economics, Department of Economics.
    7. David Arnold & Will Dobbie & Crystal S. Yang, 2017. "Racial Bias in Bail Decisions," Working Papers 611, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    8. 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.
    9. Bhuller, Manudeep & Dahl, Gordon B. & Loken, Katrine Vellesen & Mogstad, Magne, 2018. "Intergenerational Effects of Incarceration," IZA Discussion Papers 11278, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

    More about this item

    Keywords

    crime; employment; incarceration; recidivism;

    JEL classification:

    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

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