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The Digital Scarlet Letter: The Effect of Online Criminal Records on Crime

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Abstract

How does public access to criminal records affect crime? Economic theory suggests that expanding access to criminal information may increase the cost of crime to potential criminals by endangering their future work prospects and thus act as a deterrent. However, increased provision of information could also obstruct ex-convicts from finding legal employment and lead to higher recidivism rates. I exploit the state and time variation in the introduction of state-maintained online criminal databases – which represent a sharp drop in the cost and effort of gaining criminal background information on another person – to empirically investigate the trade-off between deterrence and recidivism. I find that online criminal records lead to a small net reduction in property crime rates, but also a marked increase of approximately 11 percent

Suggested Citation

  • Dara N. Lee, 2011. "The Digital Scarlet Letter: The Effect of Online Criminal Records on Crime," Working Papers 1118, Department of Economics, University of Missouri.
  • Handle: RePEc:umc:wpaper:1118
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    File URL: https://economics.missouri.edu/working-papers/2011/wp1118_leedn.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Funk, Patricia, 2004. "On the effective use of stigma as a crime-deterrent," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 48(4), pages 715-728, August.
    2. Eric Helland & Alexander Tabarrok, 2007. "Does Three Strikes Deter?: A Nonparametric Estimation," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 42(2).
    3. Emily G. Owens, 2009. "More Time, Less Crime? Estimating the Incapacitative Effect of Sentence Enhancements," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 52(3), pages 551-579, August.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. Ilyana Kuziemko, 2007. "Going Off Parole: How the Elimination of Discretionary Prison Release Affects the Social Cost of Crime," NBER Working Papers 13380, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. David H. Autor, 2001. "Wiring the Labor Market," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 15(1), pages 25-40, Winter.
    8. Harry J. Holzer & Steven Raphael & Michael A. Stoll, 2001. "Will Employers Hire Ex-Offenders? Employer Preferences, Background Checks, and Their Determinants," JCPR Working Papers 238, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
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    Cited by:

    1. Jackson, Osborne & Zhao, Bo, 2017. "Does changing employers’ access to criminal histories affect ex-offenders’ recidivism?: evidence from the 2010–2012 Massachusetts CORI Reform," Working Papers 16-31, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    2. Marieke Liem & Jennifer Garcin, 2014. "Post-Release Success among Paroled Lifers," Laws, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 3(4), pages 1-26, December.
    3. Schnepel, Kevin, 2014. "Good Jobs and Recidivism," Working Papers 2014-10, University of Sydney, School of Economics.
    4. Jackson, Osborne & Sullivan, Riley & Zhao, Bo, 2017. "Reintegrating the ex-offender population in the U.S. labor market: lessons from the CORI Reform in Massachusetts," New England Public Policy Center Research Report 17-1, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    crime; recidivism; criminal records;

    JEL classification:

    • K14 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Criminal Law
    • K4 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior

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