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Prison Conditions and Recidivism


  • Drago, Francesco

    () (University of Naples Federico II)

  • Galbiati, Roberto

    () (CNRS)

  • Vertova, Pietro

    () (University of Bergamo)


We use a unique data set on post-release behavior of former Italian inmates to estimate the effect of prison conditions on recidivism. By combining different sources of data we exploit variation in prison conditions measured by: 1) the extent of overcrowding at the prison level, 2) the number of deaths in the facility of detention during an inmate’s stay and 3) the distance of the prison from the chief town of the province where the prison is located. By considering inmates who served their sentence in a jurisdiction different from the hometown in which they live after release, we can include province of residence fixed effects and account for the main source of unobserved heterogeneity correlated to prison conditions. We find that a harsher prison treatment does not reduce former inmates’ criminal activity. The extent of overcrowding and the number of deaths do not decrease the probability to be re-arrested. Instead, we find evidence that the degree of isolation measured by distance from the prison of detention to the chief town of the province where the prison is located increases recidivism.

Suggested Citation

  • Drago, Francesco & Galbiati, Roberto & Vertova, Pietro, 2008. "Prison Conditions and Recidivism," IZA Discussion Papers 3395, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp3395

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    References listed on IDEAS

    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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Christoph Engel, 2016. "Experimental Criminal Law. A Survey of Contributions from Law, Economics and Criminology," Discussion Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2016_07, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods.
    2. Nathan Berg & Donald Lien, 2009. "Sexual orientation and self-reported lying," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 7(1), pages 83-104, March.
    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. Francesco Drago & Roberto Galbiati, 2012. "Indirect Effects of a Policy Altering Criminal Behavior: Evidence from the Italian Prison Experiment," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 4(2), pages 199-218, April.
    5. Entorf, Horst, 2012. "Expected recidivism among young offenders: Comparing specific deterrence under juvenile and adult criminal law," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 28(4), pages 414-429.
    6. 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.
    7. Nadia Campaniello & Theodoros M. Diasakos & Giovanni Mastrobuoni, 2017. "Rationalizable Suicides: Evidence from Changes in Inmates’ Expected Length of Sentence," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 15(2), pages 388-428.
    8. Benjamin Monnery, 2013. "The determinants of recidivism among ex-prisoners: a survival analysis on French data," Working Papers halshs-00822847, HAL.
    9. repec:kap:iaecre:v:21:y:2015:i:2:p:155-165 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. 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).
    11. 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.
    12. Santiago Tobón, 2017. "Condiciones de Reclusión y Reincidencia: Evidencia de una expansión de cupos carcelario," DOCUMENTOS CEDE 015293, UNIVERSIDAD DE LOS ANDES-CEDE.
    13. Lotti, Giulia, 2016. "Tough on young offenders: harmful or helpful?," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 1126, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    14. 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).
    15. repec:bla:ausecr:v:49:y:2016:i:4:p:515-523 is not listed on IDEAS
    16. David Skarbek, 2014. "Prisonomics: Lessons from America's Mass Incarceration," Economic Affairs, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 34(3), pages 411-421, October.
    17. Entorf, Horst, 2012. "Certainty and Severity of Sanctions in Classical and Behavioral Models of Deterrence: A Survey," IZA Discussion Papers 6516, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

    More about this item


    prison; deterrence; crime;

    JEL classification:

    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • J18 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Public Policy

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