Tough on crime

Kevin Lewis

December 07, 2012

How Should Inmates be Released from Prison? An Assessment of Parole versus Fixed-Sentence Regimes

Ilyana Kuziemko
Quarterly Journal of Economics, forthcoming

Over the past thirty years, many states have abolished parole boards, which traditionally have had the discretion to release inmates before the expiration of their full sentence, in favor of fixed-sentence regimes in which the original sentence is binding. However, if prison time lowers recidivism risk and if parole boards can accurately estimate inmates' recidivism risk, then, relative to a fixed-sentence regime, parole can provide allocative efficiency benefits (costly prison space is allocated to the highest-risk offenders) and incentive benefits (prisoners know they must reduce their recidivism risk to gain an early release, so invest in their own rehabilitation). Exploiting quasi-experiments from the state of Georgia, I show that prison time reduces recidivism risk and that parole boards set prison time in an allocatively efficient manner. Prisoners respond to these incentives; after a reform that eliminated parole for certain offenders, they accumulated a greater number of disciplinary infractions, completed fewer prison rehabilitative programs, and recidivated at higher rates than inmates unaffected by the reform. I estimate that eliminating parole for all prisoners would increase the prison population by ten percent while also increasing the crime rate through deleterious effects on recidivism.


How Much Crime Reduction Does the Marginal Prisoner Buy?

Rucker Johnson & Steven Raphael
Journal of Law and Economics, May 2012, Pages 275-310

We estimate the effect of changes in incarceration rates on changes in crime rates using state-level panel data. We develop an instrument for future changes in incarceration rates based on the theoretically predicted dynamic adjustment path of the aggregate incarceration rate in response to a shock to prison entrance or exit transition probabilities. Given that incarceration rates adjust to permanent changes in behavior with a dynamic lag, one can identify variation in incarceration rates that is not contaminated by contemporary changes in criminal behavior. For the period 1978-2004, we find crime-prison elasticities that are considerably larger than those implied by ordinary least squares estimates. We also present results for two subperiods: 1978-90 and 1991-2004. Our instrumental variables estimates for the earlier period suggest relatively large crime-prison effects. For the later time period, however, the effects of changes in incarceration rates on crime rates are much smaller.


Geographic Proximity in the Diffusion of Concealed Weapons Permit Laws

Justin Tucker, James Stoutenborough & Matthew Beverlin
Politics & Policy, December 2012, Pages 1081-1105

Previous research has failed to adequately address why we should expect the diffusion of policy innovations in the realm of gun policy. As a social regulatory policy, gun policy may be highly influenced by policy adoptions in neighboring regions, in part due to the high likelihood of spillover effects. This article discusses under what conditions we should expect policy diffusion to occur from neighboring jurisdictions. We use event-history analyses to evaluate impact of neighboring states diffusion pressure on the adoption of "shall issue" concealed weapons laws between 1974 and 2007. Neighboring diffusion pressure has a significant effect on policy adoption even when controlling for National Rifle Association membership and a previous adoption of a similar policy ("may issue" permit). We provide a rationale why scholars should find neighboring diffusion effects in some policy areas but not others.


Revisiting Licensed Handgun Carrying: Personal Protection or Interpersonal Liability?

James La Valle & Thomas Glover
American Journal of Criminal Justice, December 2012, Pages 580-601

No debate is more sensitive or polemical than the question of "gun rights" in the U.S., and licensing private citizens to carry concealed handguns is the most controversial "right" of all. The morally charged nature of this controversy is reflected in the disparate results reported by various researchers who analyze the effects of these laws, and also by the especially intense methodological scrutiny that follows published research. A National Science Academy review of existing gun policy research issues methodological recommendations which may help resolve scientifically the question of whether or how "right to carry" licensing effects rates of lethal firearm violence. Similar efforts have been published previously, but this study improves upon those earlier efforts by increasing the sample cross-section, by further refining the model specification, and by distinguishing conceptually "shall issue" RTC laws from "may issue" RTC laws. The results provisionally suggest that the former increases homicide rates whereas the latter decreases them.


Race and Selective Enforcement in Public Housing

Jeffrey Fagan, Garth Davies & Adam Carlis
Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, December 2012, Pages 697-728

Drugs, crime, and public housing are closely linked in policy and politics, and their nexus has animated several intensive drug enforcement programs targeted at public housing residents. In New York City, police systematically conduct "vertical patrols" in public housing buildings, making tens of thousands of Terry stops each year. During these patrols, both uniformed and undercover officers systematically move through the buildings, temporarily detaining and questioning residents and visitors, often at a low threshold of suspicion, and usually alleging trespass to justify the stop. We use a case-control design to identify the effects of living in one of New York City's 330 public housing developments on the probability of stop, frisk, and arrest from 2004-2011. We find that the incidence rate ratio for trespass stops and arrests is more than two times greater in public housing than in the immediate surrounding neighborhoods. We decompose these effects using first differences models and find that the difference in percent black and Hispanic populations in public housing compared to the surrounding area predicts the disparity in trespass enforcement and enforcement of other criminal law violations. The pattern of racially selective enforcement suggests the potential for systemic violations of the Fourteenth Amendment's prohibition on racial discrimination.


Enforcement and Public Corruption: Evidence from the American States

James Alt & David Dreyer Lassen
Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, forthcoming

We use panel data on corruption convictions, new panels of assistant US Attorneys and relative public sector wages, and careful attention to the consequences of modeling endogeneity to estimate the impact of prosecutorial resources on criminal convictions of those who undertake corrupt acts. Consistent with "system capacity" arguments, we find that greater prosecutor resources result in more convictions for corruption, other things equal. By explicitly determining the allocation of prosecutorial resources endogenously from partisan and administrative considerations, we show that this specification leads to larger estimates of the effect of resources on convictions. We also control for and confirm in a panel context the effects of many previously identified correlates and causes of corruption. We find more limited, recent evidence for the deterrent effect of increased prosecutions. The results are robust to various ways of measuring the number of convictions as well as to various estimators.


Discouraging window breakers: The lagged effects of police activity on crime

Jonathan Caudill et al.
Journal of Criminal Justice, January-February 2013, Pages 18-23

Background: Previous studies have tested numerous times with mixed results the utility of Wilson and Kelling's (1982) Broken Windows theory as a crime reduction strategy. Despite mixed scholarship, Broken Windows enforcement has remained a staple in municipal policing strategies.

Materials and Methods: Unlike previous studies, this study operationalized Broken Windows at the sector level and examined the effects of proactive policing activities -traffic citations and non-traffic citations - on monthly-reported violent and property crimes.

Results: Lagged-effects negative binomial models suggest mixed support for Broken Windows. Specifically, Broken Windows measures failed to predict violent crime, but non-traffic citations reduced property crime at all three lagged intervals.

Conclusion: Broken Windows enforcement activity has the potential to reduce crime when operationalized correctly. Additionally, the lagged effects suggested non-traffic citations had a lagged deterrent effect on property crime.


When Concealed Handgun Licensees Break Bad: Criminal Convictions of Concealed Handgun Licensees in Texas, 2001-2009

Charles Phillips et al.
American Journal of Public Health, January 2013, Pages 86-91

Objectives: We explored differences in criminal convictions between holders and nonholders of a concealed handgun license (CHL) in Texas.

Methods: The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) provides annual data on criminal convictions of holders and nonholders of CHLs. We used 2001 to 2009 DPS data to investigate the differences in the distribution of convictions for these 2 groups across 9 types of criminal offenses. We calculated z scores for the differences in the types of crimes for which CHL holders and nonholders were convicted.

Results: CHL holders were much less likely than nonlicensees to be convicted of crimes. Most nonholder convictions involved higher-prevalence crimes (burglary, robbery, or simple assault). CHL holders' convictions were more likely to involve lower-prevalence crimes, such as sexual offenses, gun offenses, or offenses involving a death.

Conclusions: Our results imply that expanding the settings in which concealed carry is permitted may increase the risk of specific types of crimes, some quite serious in those settings. These increased risks may be relatively small. Nonetheless, policymakers should consider these risks when contemplating reducing the scope of gun-free zones.


Self-Reported Intentions to Offend: All Talk and No Action?

Lyn Exum, Michael Turner & Jennifer Hartman
American Journal of Criminal Justice, December 2012, Pages 523-543

To study criminal decision making, researchers commonly present hypothetical offending scenarios to participants and record their self-reported intentions to offend (SRIO). These SRIO scores are treated as an indicator of participants' predisposition to commit the act described in the scenario. Drawing from the field of clinical measurement, the current study examines the diagnostic accuracy of SRIO scores by comparing participants' intentions to acquire illegal music files from a designated distributor to their actual attempts to acquire such files. Approximately 7% of participants who read about a (bogus) music piracy opportunity reported strong - and at times definitive - intentions to seek out the illegal files. However, in actuality, no one in the study engaged in this behavior. Clinimetric indicators suggest that SRIO scores are better at predicting abstention from crime than actual criminal participation.


Juvenile Arrest and Collateral Educational Damage in the Transition to Adulthood

David Kirk & Robert Sampson
Sociology of Education, forthcoming

Official sanctioning of students by the criminal justice system is a long-hypothesized source of educational disadvantage, but its explanatory status remains unresolved. Few studies of the educational consequences of a criminal record account for alternative explanations such as low self-control, lack of parental supervision, deviant peers, and neighborhood disadvantage. Moreover, virtually no research on the effect of a criminal record has examined the "black box" of mediating mechanisms or the consequence of arrest for postsecondary educational attainment. Analyzing longitudinal data with multiple and independent assessments of theoretically relevant domains, the authors estimate the direct effect of arrest on later high school dropout and college enrollment for adolescents with otherwise equivalent neighborhood, school, family, peer, and individual characteristics as well as similar frequency of criminal offending. The authors present evidence that arrest has a substantively large and robust impact on dropping out of high school among Chicago public school students. They also find a significant gap in four-year college enrollment between arrested and otherwise similar youth without a criminal record. The authors also assess intervening mechanisms hypothesized to explain the process by which arrest disrupts the schooling process and, in turn, produces collateral educational damage. The results imply that institutional responses and disruptions in students' educational trajectories, rather than social-psychological factors, are responsible for the arrest-education link.


Histories of childhood victimization and subsequent mental health problems, substance use, and sexual victimization for a sample of incarcerated women in the US

Stephen Tripodi & Carrie Pettus-Davis
International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, forthcoming

Women are entering US prisons at nearly double the rate of men and are the fastest growing prison population. Current extant literature focuses on the prevalence of the incarceration of women, but few studies exist that emphasize the different trajectories to prison. For example, women prisoners have greater experiences of prior victimization, more reports of mental illness, and higher rates of illicit substance use. The purpose of this study was to understand the prevalence of childhood victimization and its association with adult mental health problems, substance abuse disorders, and further sexual victimization. The research team interviewed a random sample of 125 women prisoners soon to be released from prison to gather information on their childhood physical and sexual victimization, mental health and substance abuse problems as an adult, and sexual victimization in the year preceding incarceration. Results indicate that women prisoners in this sample, who were both physically and sexually victimized as children, were more likely to be hospitalized as an adult for a psychological or emotional problem. Women who were sexually victimized or both physically and sexually victimized were more likely to attempt suicide. Women who experienced physical victimization as children and women who were both physically and sexually victimized were more likely to have a substance use disorder and women who were sexually abused as children or both physically and sexually victimized were more likely to be sexually abused in the year preceding prison. This article ends with a discussion about prisons' role in providing treatment for women prisoners and basing this treatment on women's trajectories to prison, which disproportionately include childhood victimization and subsequent mental health and substance use problems.


Sometimes Ignorance is Bliss: Investigating Citizen Perceptions of the Certainty and Severity of Punishment

Alex Piquero et al.
American Journal of Criminal Justice, December 2012, Pages 630-646

Deterrence lies at the heart of the criminal justice system and policy. There is a lack of information on citizen's perceptions regarding a critical element of the deterrence process as it manifests through the communication of sanction threats. This study uses data from over 400 adults to examine their knowledge regarding the probability of detection and the average punishments for DUI, and also assesses the contribution of demographic and theoretical variables in predicting perceptions of detection probabilities and punishment estimates. Results show that persons over-estimate the likelihood of detection and provide higher estimates for average sentence lengths, but very few variables predict deterrence perceptions. An investigation of the resetting effect shows that persons tend to lower the estimated likelihood of punishment after experiencing a punishment. Deterrence may work better if researchers and policy officials understand what influences these perceptions and how they may be modified.


Parole, snitch, or die: California's supermax prisons and prisoners, 1997-2007

Keramet Reiter
Punishment & Society, December 2012, Pages 530-563

Supermaximum security prisons (‘supermaxes') across the United States detain thousands in long-term solitary confinement, under conditions of extreme sensory deprivation. In 1988 and 1989, California opened two of the first and largest of the modern supermaxes: Corcoran and Pelican Bay State Prisons. Today, California houses more than 3300 prisoners in supermaxes. Each month, between 50 and 100 people are released directly from these supermaxes onto parole. Using statistics obtained from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, this article explores who these prisoners and parolees are: what race are these prisoners, how long did they spend in solitary confinement, and how frequently are they released? Relative to non-supermax prisoners and parolees in California, supermax prisoners and parolees are disproportionately Latinos, who have served long prison sentences, under severe conditions. Analysis of interviews with correctional department administrators about the original goals and purposes of the supermaxes further contextualizes these data, revealing that supermaxes today function rather differently than their designers envisioned 20 years ago. In sum, this research provides one of the first evaluations of how supermaxes function, in terms of whom they detain and for how long, and how these patterns relate to the originally articulated purposes of the institutions.


Out and Down: Incarceration and Psychiatric Disorders

Jason Schnittker, Michael Massoglia & Christopher Uggen
Journal of Health and Social Behavior, December 2012, Pages 448-464

Psychiatric disorders are unusually prevalent among current and former inmates, but it is not known what this relationship reflects. A putative causal relationship is contaminated by assorted influences, including childhood disadvantage, the early onset of most disorders, and the criminalization of substance use. Using the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (N = 5692), we examine the relationship between incarceration and psychiatric disorders after statistically adjusting for multidimensional influences. The results indicate that (1) some of the most common disorders found among former inmates emerge in childhood and adolescence and therefore predate incarceration; (2) the relationships between incarceration and disorders are smaller for current disorders than lifetime disorders, suggesting that the relationship between incarceration and disorders dissipates over time; and (3) early substance disorders anticipate later incarceration and other psychiatric disorders simultaneously, indicating selection. Yet the results also reveal robust and long-lasting relationships between incarceration and certain disorders, which are not inconsequential for being particular. Specifically, incarceration is related to subsequent mood disorders, related to feeling "down," including major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and dysthymia. These disorders, in turn, are strongly related to disability, more strongly than substance abuse disorders and impulse control disorders. Although often neglected as a health consequence of incarceration, mood disorders might explain some of the additional disability former inmates experience following release, elevating their relevance for those interested in prisoner reintegration.


Doping, the Inspection Game, and Bayesian Enforcement

Roland Kirstein
Journal of Sports Economics, forthcoming

"Bayesian enforcement" assumes that doping tests are imperfect. Moreover, the enforcer is interested in fostering compliant behavior and making correct decisions. Three types of perfect Bayesian equilibria exist, which differ in their punishment styles: "tyrannic," "draconian," and "lenient." The equilibrium probability of compliant behavior is highest in the lenient equilibrium; therefore, the legal framework of the enforcement should aim at unselecting the draconian and tyrannic equilibria. Total deterrence is impossible as long as the signal is imperfect. An increase in punishment would not increase the probability of compliant behavior.


Student Attitudes Toward Concealed Handguns on Campus at 2 Universities

Michael Cavanaugh et al.
American Journal of Public Health, December 2012, Pages 2245-2247

We examined student support for a policy that would allow carrying of concealed handguns on university campuses. Large percentages of students at 2 universities expressed very low levels of comfort with the idea of permitting concealed handgun carrying on campus, suggesting that students may not welcome less restrictive policies. Students held slightly different opinions about concealed handguns on and off campus, suggesting that they view the campus environment as unique with respect to concealed handgun carrying.


Tolerance of Minor Setbacks in a Challenging Reentry Experience: An Evaluation of a Federal Reentry Court

Caitlin Taylor
Criminal Justice Policy Review, January 2013, Pages 49-70

The Federal Probation Office and the Board of Judges for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania initiated a pilot reentry court program, called the Supervision to Aid Reentry (STAR) program in 2007. The impact evaluation used a quasi-experimental research design to compare the reentry success of the first 60 STAR participants to a matched comparison group of 60 probationers in the 18 months postrelease. While logistic regression results indicated that STAR participants were no less likely to be arrested than the comparison group, STAR participation was associated with a significant reduction in the likelihood of supervision revocation. With insight from a previous process evaluation of the STAR program, implications of these findings for the STAR program and other reentry programs are discussed.


Drugs, Guns, and Disadvantaged Youths: Co-Occurring Behavior and the Code of the Street

Andrea Allen & Celia Lo
Crime & Delinquency, November 2012, Pages 932-953

Guided by Anderson's theory of the code of the street, this study explored social mechanisms linking individual-level disadvantage factors with the adoption of beliefs grounded in the code of the street and with drug trafficking and gun carrying - the co-occurring behavior shaping violence among young men in urban areas. Secondary data were employed from a sample of male inmates and a sample of male high school students. Data analysis indicated that the social disadvantage factor absent father significantly predicted this co-occurring behavior in the inmate sample, whereas the social disadvantage factor history of expulsion did so in the student sample. In both samples, race and adopting beliefs about gun carrying from the code of the street were significant predictors of drug trafficking and gun carrying. The results do not suggest that such code-based beliefs' impact on drug trafficking and gun carrying differs by race. Implications for social policy are discussed.


Does Inmate Behavior Affect Post-Release Offending? Investigating the Misconduct-Recidivism Relationship among Youth and Adults

Joshua Cochran et al.
Justice Quarterly, forthcoming

Recent scholarship has highlighted the potential implications of in-prison experiences for prisoner reentry and, in particular, recidivism. Few penological or reentry studies, however, have examined the relationship between one experience that may be especially consequential, inmate misconduct, and recidivism. The goal of this study is to address this gap in the literature by employing a matching design that estimates the effect of inmate misconduct on reoffending, using data on a release cohort of Florida prisoners. The results indicate that inmates who engage in misconduct, violent misconduct in particular, are more likely to recidivate. Consistent with prior scholarship, we find that this relationship holds only for adult inmates. These findings underscore the importance of prison experiences for understanding recidivism, examining youthful and adult inmate populations separately, and devising policies that reduce misconduct.

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