The thin blue line

Kevin Lewis

May 29, 2015

Fear of Obama: An empirical study of the demand for guns and the U.S. 2008 presidential election

Emilio Depetris-Chauvin
Journal of Public Economics, forthcoming

Using monthly data constructed from futures markets on presidential election outcomes and a novel proxy for firearm purchases, this paper analyzes the response of the demand for guns to the likelihood of Barack Obama being elected in 2008. Point estimate suggests the existence of a large Obama effect on the demand for guns. This political effect is larger than the effect associated with the worsening economic conditions. This paper presents robust empirical evidence supporting the hypothesis that the unprecedented increase in the demand for guns was partially driven by fears of a future Obama gun-control policy. Conversely, the evidence for a racial prejudice motivation is less conclusive. Furthermore, this paper argues that the Obama effect did not represent a short-lived intertemporal substitution effect, and that it permanently affected the stock of guns in circulation. Finally, states that had the largest increases in the demand for guns during the 2008 election race experienced significant changes in certain categories of crime relative to other states following Obama's election. In particular, those states were 20 percent more likely to experience a shooting event where at least three people were killed.


The Effect of Hawaii's Ban The Box Law on Repeat Offending

Stewart D'Alessio, Lisa Stolzenberg & Jamie Flexon
American Journal of Criminal Justice, June 2015, Pages 336-352

The social stigma accompanying an official criminal record hinders the ability of an individual to acquire quality and stable employment, which is problematic because of the often reported nexus between unemployment and criminal behavior. Ban the box laws that limit an employer's use of criminal background checks during the hiring process are being established across the country to help integrate ex-offenders into the labor force. The current study investigates whether Hawaii's 1998 ban the box law reduced repeat offending in Honolulu County. Logistic regression results show that a criminal defendant prosecuted in Honolulu for a felony crime was 57 % less likely to have a prior criminal conviction after the implementation of Hawaii's ban the box law. By mollifying the social stigma attached to a criminal record during the hiring process, Hawaii's ban the box law proved to be extremely successful in attenuating repeat felony offending.


Reducing Crime and Violence: Experimental Evidence on Adult Noncognitive Investments in Liberia

Christopher Blattman, Julian Jamison & Margaret Sheridan
NBER Working Paper, May 2015

We show self control and self image are malleable in adults, and that investments in them reduce crime and violence. We recruited criminally-engaged Liberian men and randomized half to eight weeks of group cognitive behavioral therapy, teaching self control skills and a noncriminal self-image. We also randomized $200 grants. Cash raised incomes and reduced crime in the short-run but effects dissipated within a year. Therapy increased self control and noncriminal values, and acts of crime and violence fell 20--50%. Therapy's impacts lasted at least a year when followed by cash, likely because cash reinforced behavioral changes via prolonged practice.


If You Build It, They Will Fill It: The Consequences of Prison Overcrowding Litigation

Joshua Guetzkow & Eric Schoon
Law & Society Review, June 2015, Pages 401–432

This article examines the consequences of prison overcrowding litigation for U.S. prisons. We use insights derived from the endogeneity of law perspective to develop expectations about the likely impact of overcrowding litigation on five outcomes: prison admissions, prison releases, spending on prison capacity, prison crowding, and incarceration rates. Using newly available data on prison overcrowding litigation cases joined with panel data on U.S. states from 1971 to 1996, we offer a novel and comprehensive analysis of the impact that overcrowding litigation has had on U.S. prisons. We find that it had no impact on admissions or release rates and did not lead to any reduction in prison crowding. Litigation did, however, lead to an increase in spending on prison capacity and incarceration rates. We discuss the implications of these results for endogeneity of law theory, attempts to achieve reform through litigation, and the politics of prison construction.


Guns, Impulsive Angry Behavior, and Mental Disorders: Results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R)

Jeffrey Swanson et al.
Behavioral Sciences & the Law, forthcoming

Analyses from the National Comorbidity Study Replication provide the first nationally representative estimates of the co-occurrence of impulsive angry behavior and possessing or carrying a gun among adults with and without certain mental disorders and demographic characteristics. The study found that a large number of individuals in the United States self-report patterns of impulsive angry behavior and also possess firearms at home (8.9%) or carry guns outside the home (1.5%). These data document associations of numerous common mental disorders and combinations of angry behavior with gun access. Because only a small proportion of persons with this risky combination have ever been involuntarily hospitalized for a mental health problem, most will not be subject to existing mental health-related legal restrictions on firearms resulting from a history of involuntary commitment. Excluding a large proportion of the general population from gun possession is also not likely to be feasible. Behavioral risk-based approaches to firearms restriction, such as expanding the definition of gun-prohibited persons to include those with violent misdemeanor convictions and multiple DUI convictions, could be a more effective public health policy to prevent gun violence in the population.


Large Capacity Magazines and Homicide

Carlisle Moody
College of William and Mary Working Paper, April 2015

Recent events have resulted in calls to ban large capacity magazines (LCMs) holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Using data from a Virginia data base of crime guns seized by police between 1993 and 2013, we find that the proportion of crime guns with LCMs declined after the 1994 Federal assault weapons ban and increased after the ban was lifted in 2004. However, we can find no evidence that LCMs increased either murder or gun murder, implying that the Federal LCM ban did not have the intended effect and that LCM bans are likely to be ineffective.


Economic Freedom and Recidivism: Evidence from US States

Joshua Hall, Kaitlyn Harger & Dean Stansel
International Advances in Economic Research, May 2015, Pages 155-165

This paper provides an exploratory analysis into factors contributing to differences across states in recidivism rates. We provide the first such examination that incorporates differences in economic freedom. Using a panel data set from 1998 to 2010, we find that higher levels of economic freedom within a state are associated with lower recidivism rates within that state. A one percent increase in state economic freedom is associated with a 0.47 % decrease in parolee recidivism. The relationship is stronger and more statistically significant for labor market freedom, with a one percent increase in labor market freedom being associated with a 0.67 % decline in recidivism.


A natural experiment of the consequences of concentrating former prisoners in the same neighborhoods

David Kirk
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming

More than 600,000 prisoners are released from incarceration each year in the United States, and most end up residing in metropolitan areas, clustered within a select few neighborhoods. Likely consequences of this concentration of returning prisoners include higher rates of subsequent crime and recidivism. In fact, one-half of released prisoners return to prison within only 3 y of release. The routine exposure to criminogenic influences and criminal opportunities portends a bleak future for individuals who reside in neighborhoods with numerous other ex-prisoners. Through a natural experiment focused on post-Hurricane Katrina Louisiana, I examine a counterfactual scenario: If instead of concentrating ex-prisoners in geographic space, what would happen to recidivism rates if ex-prisoners were dispersed across space? Findings reveal that a decrease in the concentration of parolees in a neighborhood leads to a significant decrease in the reincarceration rate of former prisoners.


No-Contact Orders, Victim Safety, and Offender Recidivism in Cases of Misdemeanor Criminal Domestic Violence: A Randomized Experiment

Robert Brame et al.
American Journal of Criminal Justice, June 2015, Pages 225-249

Using an experimental design, this research examined the impact of proactive enforcement of court-imposed no-contact orders (NCOs) on offender behavior and victim safety in cases of misdemeanor domestic violence. The major research goals and objectives were to assess whether proactive enforcement: (1) enhanced victim safety by reducing offender recidivism; (2) increased victim knowledge about no-contact orders; and (3) reduced contact between offenders and victims. A prospective design was used to randomly assign 466 cases of misdemeanor criminal domestic violence to either systematic, proactive enforcement or to routine, reactive enforcement of the court-ordered no-contact order conditions. Treatment effectiveness was assessed by analyses of official criminal records data and victim survey data. Study results suggest that the treatment had no impact on victim safety or offender recidivism. Notably, victims in the treatment group were more likely to be aware that the no-contact order was in place, had higher level of contact with law enforcement and victim advocates, and more often viewed the contact with their batterer as stalking or harassment. Overall, findings from this study suggest important directions for future research examining the effectiveness of interventions for intimate partner violence and abuse.


Sexual offending runs in families: A 37-year nationwide study

Niklas Långström et al.
International Journal of Epidemiology, forthcoming

Background: Sexual crime is an important public health concern. The possible causes of sexual aggression, however, remain uncertain.

Methods: We examined familial aggregation and the contribution of genetic and environmental factors to sexual crime by linking longitudinal, nationwide Swedish crime and multigenerational family registers. We included all men convicted of any sexual offence (N = 21 566), specifically rape of an adult (N = 6131) and child molestation (N = 4465), from 1973 to 2009. Sexual crime rates among fathers and brothers of sexual offenders were compared with corresponding rates in fathers and brothers of age-matched population control men without sexual crime convictions. We also modelled the relative influence of genetic and environmental factors to the liability of sexual offending.

Results: We found strong familial aggregation of sexual crime [odds ratio (OR) = 5.1, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 4.5–5.9] among full brothers of convicted sexual offenders. Familial aggregation was lower in father-son dyads (OR = 3.7, 95% CI = 3.2–4.4) among paternal half-brothers (OR = 2.1, 95% CI = 1.5–2.9) and maternal half-brothers (OR = 1.7, 95% CI = 1.2–2.4). Statistical modelling of the strength and patterns of familial aggregation suggested that genetic factors (40%) and non-shared environmental factors (58%) explained the liability to offend sexually more than shared environmental influences (2%). Further, genetic effects tended to be weaker for rape of an adult (19%) than for child molestation (46%).

Conclusions: We report strong evidence of familial clustering of sexual offending, primarily accounted for by genes rather than shared environmental influences. Future research should possibly test the effectiveness of selective prevention efforts for male first-degree relatives of sexually aggressive individuals, and consider familial risk in sexual violence risk assessment.


The Benefits of Keeping Idle Hands Busy: An Outcome Evaluation of a Prisoner Reentry Employment Program

Grant Duwe
Crime & Delinquency, May 2015, Pages 559-586

This study evaluated the effectiveness of EMPLOY, a prisoner reentry employment program, by examining recidivism and postrelease employment outcomes among 464 offenders released from Minnesota prisons between 2006 and 2008. As outcome data were collected on the 464 offenders through the end of June 2010, the average follow-up period was 28 months. Observable selection bias was minimized by using propensity score matching to create a comparison group of 232 nonparticipants who were not significantly different from the 232 EMPLOY offenders. Results from the Cox regression analyses revealed that participating in EMPLOY reduced the hazard ratio for recidivism by 32% to 63%. The findings further showed that EMPLOY increased the odds of gaining postrelease employment by 72%. Although EMPLOY did not have a significant impact on hourly wage, the overall postrelease wages for program participants were significantly higher because they worked a greater number of hours. The study concludes by discussing the implications of these findings.


The effects of state and federal background checks on state-level gun-related murder rates

Mark Gius
Applied Economics, forthcoming

The purpose of the present study was to determine whether firearm background checks are significantly related to gun-related murder rates. The present study differs from prior research in several ways. First, a large longitudinal data-set is used; data for 50 states for the period 1980–2011 are examined. Second, the effects of both federal and state background checks, including state-mandated private sales background checks, are estimated. Finally, a fixed effects model that controls for both state-level and year-specific effects is used. Results suggest that states that require dealer background checks have lower gun-related murder rates than other states. In addition, after implementation of the Brady Act, gun-related murder rates fell. However, the results also suggest that, for the entire period in question, states with private sales background checks had higher gun-related murder rates than states with no such background checks. If one only looks the Brady Act period, however, then the private sales background check variable is insignificant. These results for private sales background checks are novel and contrary to the results of much prior research in this area.


Racial (in)variance in prison rule breaking

Benjamin Steiner & John Wooldredge
Journal of Criminal Justice, May–June 2015, Pages 175–185

Purpose: Sampson and Wilson (1995) argued that the sources of crime are invariant across race, and are instead rooted in the structural differences between communities. This study involved an examination of the applicability of this thesis to incarcerated individuals.

Methods: Random samples totaling 2,388 blacks and 3,118 whites were drawn from 46 prisons in Ohio and Kentucky. Race-specific and pooled bi-level models of violent and nonviolent rule violations were estimated. Differences between race-specific models in the magnitude of regression coefficients for the same predictors and outcomes were compared.

Results: Findings revealed that individual and environmental effects were very similar between black and white inmates, although rates of violent and nonviolent rule breaking were higher for blacks. Within prisons, black inmates were also more likely than white inmates to engage in rule breaking. The individual-level relationship between race and violence was stronger in prisons with a lower ratio of black to white inmates and in prisons where inmates were more cynical towards legal authority.

Conclusions: Findings seemingly refute the applicability of the racial invariance hypothesis to an incarcerated population.


How Different Operationalizations of Recidivism Impact Conclusions of Effectiveness of Parole Supervision

Michael Ostermann, Laura Salerno & Jordan Hyatt
Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, forthcoming

Objectives: Recidivism reduction is the primary goal of many correctional programs, and "recidivism" is the most prevalent outcome measure in related program evaluation research. Many different operationalizations of recidivism are used without a clear delineation of how these variations may impact conclusions. This study explores how the definitions of recidivism may impact research findings and resultant policy recommendations regarding the efficacy of parole.

Methods: Data from prisoners released in 2008 (n = 12,132) to parole or unconditional release are analyzed according to 10 different operationalizations of recidivism. We compare recidivism rates, time to failure, and hazard rates between groups through the presentation of descriptive statistics and the use of multivariate Cox proportional hazards survival models.

Results: Our findings indicate that parole supervision could be deemed either effective or ineffective depending on which definition of recidivism is employed. These findings are largely driven by whether technical parole violations are included into more traditional criminal outcome measures, such as rearrests, reconvictions, or reincarcerations for new crimes, and if court processing times are factored into measures of time to failure.

Conclusions: Our results raise questions about the consistency of findings within the corrections literature. These conclusions, given the role that technical violations and court processing times can play, suggest a need for increased specificity when using recidivism as an outcome measure.


Deterrence and the Optimality of Rewarding Prisoners for Good Behavior

Mitchell Polinsky
International Review of Law and Economics, forthcoming

In this article I examine the social desirability of rewarding prisoners for good behavior, either by reducing their sentences (granting "time off"), converting part of their sentences to a period of parole, or providing them with privileges in prison. Rewarding good behavior reduces the state's cost of operating prisons. But rewarding good behavior also tends to lower the deterrence of crime because such rewards diminish the disutility of imprisonment. I demonstrate that, despite this countervailing consideration, it is always socially desirable to reward good behavior with either time off or parole. In essence, this is because the reward can be chosen so that it just offsets the burden borne by prisoners to meet the standard of good behavior — resulting in good behavior essentially without a reduction in deterrence. While employing privileges to reward good behavior might be preferable to no reward, the use of privileges is inferior to time off and parole.


Stealing to Survive? Crime and Income Shocks in 19th Century France

Vincent Bignon, Eve Caroli & Roberto Galbiati
Economic Journal, forthcoming

Using local administrative data from 1826 to 1936, we document the evolution of crime rates in 19th century France and we estimate the impact of a negative income shock on crime. Our identification strategy exploits the phylloxera crisis. Between 1863 and 1890, phylloxera destroyed about 40% of French vineyards. We use the geographical variation in the timing of this shock to identify its impact on property and violent crime rates, as well as minor offences. Our estimates suggest that the phylloxera crisis caused a substantial increase in property crime rates and a significant decrease in violent crimes.


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