Lives of crime

Kevin Lewis

January 09, 2019

Cumulative impact: Why prison sentences have increased
Ryan King
Criminology, forthcoming


Why has the probability of going to prison after a felony conviction increased since the early 1980s? Social scientists often try to answer this question through macro‐level research that is aimed at examining correlations between prison admissions and crime rates or sociopolitical characteristics of states. That type of macro‐level inquiry, however, does not allow for a close examination of how characteristics of offenders changed over time, and whether such changes are consequential for understanding trends in the use of imprisonment. In the current study, I take a different approach — one in which case‐level data are observed over a lengthy time span — to investigate why the likelihood of going to prison for a given crime persistently increased for several decades. The results of analyses of more than 350,000 felony cases sentenced in Minnesota during a 33‐year period show that the probability of a defendant receiving a prison sentence increased from 1981 to 2013, as would be expected. The primary reason for the rising probability of imprisonment was the significant increase in the average offender's criminal record, which more than doubled during the observation period.

Are College-Educated Police Officers Different? A Study of Stops, Searches, and Arrests
Richard Rosenfeld, Thaddeus Johnson & Richard Wright
Criminal Justice Policy Review, forthcoming


A study of more than 60,000 police traffic stops found that college-educated officers were more likely than other officers to stop drivers for less serious violations, perform consent searches, and make arrests on discretionary grounds. These results are consistent with those of prior research indicating that college-educated officers are more achievement-oriented and eager for advancement based on the traditional performance criteria of stops, searches, and arrests. The results raise questions regarding the recommendation of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing to improve police-community relations by hiring more college-educated police officers, especially in urban communities where concerns about over-policing are widespread. If community engagement were to become a primary basis for professional advancement, however, the current results suggest that college-educated officers may adapt to the new standards as diligently as they have to the traditional criteria for reward and promotion in U.S. police departments.

Nothing to Lose? An Examination of Prison Misconduct Among Life-Without-Parole Inmates
Jonathan Sorensen & Thomas Reidy
Prison Journal, January 2019, Pages 46-65


Inmates serving life-without-parole (LWOP) have been described as having “nothing to lose” by virtue of their sentence, leading to an assumption that they are more prone to disciplinary violations. This study refutes such an argument and is consistent with research demonstrating that LWOP inmates do not pose a disproportional risk for disciplinary misconduct. Results from our study comparing LWOP with parole-eligible, life-sentenced (LWP) inmates revealed neither significant differences in the total violation count nor the time to commission of an act of disciplinary misconduct. Trajectories of misconduct showed slightly higher prevalence of misconduct among LWOP inmates, a pattern of declining prevalence during the first 18 months of confinement, and a convergence with LWP inmates thereafter. The failure of assumptions of high violence risk for LWOP inmates has important public policy and correctional implications.

A Longitudinal Quasi-Experimental Study of Violence and Disorder Impacts of Urban CCTV Camera Clusters
Jerry Ratcliffe & Elizabeth Groff
Criminal Justice Review, forthcoming


Methodological challenges have hampered a number of previous studies into the crime reduction effectiveness of closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance systems. These have included the use of arbitrary fixed distances to represent estimated camera deterrence areas and a lack of control for camera sites with overlapping surveillance areas. The current article overcomes the first of these challenges by using camera view areas individually constructed by researchers viewing and manipulating cameras to determine precise camera viewsheds. The second challenge is addressed by grouping cameras into clusters of combined viewshed areas. The longitudinal crime and disorder reduction effectiveness of these clusters of overlapping CCTV cameras is tested in Philadelphia, PA. Multilevel mixed-effects models with time-varying covariates and measures from a noncomparable control area are applied to 10 years of crime data (2003–2012) within the viewsheds of 86 CCTV cameras grouped into 13 clusters. Models applied across violent street felonies and disorder incidents find no significant impact associated with the introduction of CCTV surveillance. Potential reasons for this are discussed.

Effect of Remediating Blighted Vacant Land on Shootings: A Citywide Cluster Randomized Trial
Ruth Moyer et al.
American Journal of Public Health, January 2019, Pages 140-144

Methods: We conducted a cluster randomized controlled trial in which we assigned 541 randomly selected vacant lots in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to 110 geographically contiguous clusters and randomly assigned these clusters to a greening intervention, a less-intensive mowing and trash cleanup intervention, or a no-intervention control condition. The random assignment to the trial occurred in April and June 2013 and lasted until March 2015. In a difference-in-differences analysis, we assessed whether the 2 treatment conditions relative to the control condition reduced firearm shootings around vacant lots.

Results: During the trial, both the greening intervention, −6.8% (95% confidence interval [CI] = −10.6%, −2.7%), and the mowing and trash cleanup intervention, −9.2% (95% CI = −13.2%, −4.8%), significantly reduced shootings. There was no evidence that the interventions displaced shootings into adjacent areas.

Beyond the dichotomy: Incarceration dosage and mental health
Lauren Porter & Laura DeMarco
Criminology, forthcoming


The findings from a growing body of research reveal that incarceration is detrimental for both physical and mental health. Incarceration, however, is typically conceptualized and operationalized as a dichotomy; individuals either have, or have not, been incarcerated. Considering that incarceration can range from one day to several years, a dichotomous measure may be overlooking important variations across lengths of exposure. In addition, most inmates are incarcerated more than once. In this study, we help to fill this gap by examining the relationship between incarceration dosage, measured as time served and number of spells, and mental health among a sample of young adults from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1997. By using fixed‐effects modeling, we find that the number of spells and the months incarcerated are positively related to mental health symptoms and the likelihood of depression. The association, however, is contingent on whether a respondent is currently or formerly incarcerated. Among current inmates, more time served is expected to improve mental health and the number of spells is unrelated to either outcome.

An examination of the effects on crime of switching off street lighting
Matthew Davies & David Farrington
Criminology & Criminal Justice, forthcoming


Prior reviews suggest that improving street lighting leads to a decrease in offending, but little is known about the effects of switching off street lighting. The present research investigates the effects of switching off street lighting in Maldon, Essex, by comparing police-recorded crime rates before and after, in Maldon and in the adjacent area of Braintree, Essex. After street lighting was switched off, burglary and vehicle crime increased relatively in Maldon, but criminal damage did not change, and violence decreased relatively in Maldon. Since violence is a costly crime, switching off street lighting in Maldon was not followed by an increase in the costs of crime. Possible explanations of these findings are discussed, including the fact that switching off street lighting in Maldon might have deterred people from going out at night.

Risk and economic assessment of U.S. aviation security for passenger-borne bomb attacks
Mark Stewart & John Mueller
Journal of Transportation Security, December 2018, Pages 117–136


A systems reliability analysis is developed that includes 18 layers of security that might disrupt a terrorist organisation undeterred and intent on downing an airliner with a passenger-borne bomb. Overall, they reduce the risk that such an attack would be successful by 93%. The odds that a lone wolf will be successful in such an attack are considerably lower. This level of risk reduction is very robust: security remains high even when the disruption rates that make it up are varied considerably. The same model is used to explore the risk reduction of aviation security measures in other western countries and in Israel. The benefit-to-cost ratio is then calculated for most of the security measures. It considers the costs and the risk reduction of the layer, the losses from a successful terrorist attack, and the attack probability. It is found that the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) and police, PreCheck, Visible Intermodal Protection Response (VIPR) teams, and canines pass a cost-benefit assessment. However, it finds that air marshals and behavior detection officers, at a combined cost of nearly $1.3 billion per year, fail to be cost-effective. Accordingly, there are likely to be spending reductions that could be made with little or no consequent reduction in security.

Heterogeneous effects of adolescent violent victimization on problematic outcomes in early adulthood
Jillian Turanovic
Criminology, forthcoming


Violent victimization — particularly when it happens to young people — can inflict a wide array of negative consequences across the life course. Nevertheless, some victims are more likely to suffer these consequences than others, and we do not have a very good understanding of why that is. One promising avenue of research is to examine how individuals’ differential risks of being victimized affect the extent to which they experience negative outcomes. By using propensity score matching and data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (N = 8,323), in this study I estimate the heterogeneous effects of adolescent violent victimization on several problematic outcomes in early adulthood (violent and property offending, subsequent violent victimization, depressive symptoms, hard drug use, and low educational attainment). Individuals’ differential risks of adolescent violent victimization are estimated with a host of personal, social, and contextual factors, including prior experiences with crime and violence. The results show that the consequences of adolescent victimization in early adulthood are more pronounced for youth with the lowest risks of being victimized. These findings have important implications for theory, research, and practice, and they emphasize that the consequences of victimization cannot be understood separately from the sources of victimization.

Justice at any cost? The impact of cost–benefit salience on criminal punishment judgments
Eyal Aharoni et al.
Behavioral Sciences & the Law, forthcoming


This study investigated the effect of cost–benefit salience on simulated criminal punishment judgments. In two vignette‐based survey experiments, we sought to identify how the salience of decision costs influences laypeople's punishment judgments. In both experiments (N1 = 109; N2 = 398), undergraduate participants made sentencing judgments with and without explicit information about the direct, material costs of incarceration. Using a within‐subjects design, Experiment 1 revealed that increasing the salience of incarceration costs mitigated punishments. However, when costs were not made salient, punishments were no lower than those made when the costs were externalized (i.e., paid by a third party). Experiment 2 showed the same pattern using a between‐subjects design. We conclude that, when laypeople formulate sentencing attitudes without exposure to the costs of the punishment, they are prone to discount those costs, behaving as if punishment is societally cost‐free. However, when cost information is salient, they utilize it, suggesting the operation of a genuine, albeit labile, punishment preference. We discuss the implications of these findings for psychological theories of decision making and for sentencing policy, including the degree of transparency about the relevant costs of incarceration during the decision process.

Safety in Police Numbers: Evidence of Police Effectiveness from Federal COPS Grant Applications
Emily Weisburst
American Law and Economics Review, forthcoming


Understanding the impact of police on crime is critical to designing policies that maximize safety. In this article, I use a novel estimation approach to measure the impact of police hiring, which exploits variation in federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) hiring grants, while also controlling for the endogenous decisions of police departments to apply for these grants. Using data from nearly 7,000 U.S. municipalities, I find that a 10% increase in police employment rates reduces violent crime rates by 13% and property crime rates by 7%. The results also provide suggestive evidence that law enforcement leaders are forward-looking.

Neighborhood Residence and Assessments of Racial Profiling Using Census Data
Lance Hannon
Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, January 2019


People frequently compare the racial composition of stopped individuals with the racial composition of the local residential population to assess unequal policing. This type of evaluation rests on the assumption that the census-derived population accurately reflects the population at risk to be stopped. For vehicle stops, existing research indicates that this assumption is very problematic, resulting in highly unreliable assessments of black-white policing disparities. However, there is little research on the significance of this assumption for stopped urban pedestrians. Analyzing more than 100,000 investigatory stops in Chicago, the present study finds that similar to vehicle stops, most pedestrian investigations do not involve neighborhood residents, and estimates of racial disproportionality are inflated when this issue is ignored. Still, the degree to which estimates are inflated appears less than that previously reported for vehicle stops, and sizable racial disparities remain unexplained after the issue is taken into account. Implications for future research are discussed.

Racial and gender differences in missing children’s recovery chances
Arnout van de Rijt et al.
PLoS ONE, December 2018


We inquire whether there are race and gender differences in the recovery of missing children. We argue that race and gender differences may arise due to differential media attention, socio-economic background and police resources. Datasets used in previous research lack the representativeness and longitudinal character necessary for probing victim demographic effects on recovery success. Here we use official New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services records of all children reported missing in the period 2007–2010 containing exact dates of disappearance and recovery. In event-history analysis of these data we find that missing boys and girls have comparable daily recovery chances. Black children, however, on average remain missing longer and are more likely to still be missing by the end of our observation period than non-black children.

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