Incarceration

  • David Harding
  • Stephen Raphael
  • Joan Petersilia

Leaders: David Harding, Stephen Raphael, Joan Petersilia

Since the mid-1970s, the United States has experienced a precipitous rise in incarceration, with about 2.3 million U.S. adults now incarcerated in state and federal prisons. In recent years, there has been increasing pressure to wind down this commitment to mass imprisonment, and it’s accordingly important to study ways to reintegrate successfully. The Incarceration RG is tasked with monitoring and evaluating the relationship between poverty and sentencing, parole reform, probation, reintegration, and recidivism.

Poverty and the decline in prison population: Will the ongoing decline in California’s prison population bring about an increase in homelessness, mental health service use, and other poverty-relevant outcomes? This line of research will reveal whether ongoing declines in incarceration should be coordinated with increased funding for programs that may substitute for incarceration.

Arrests, race, and poverty: Is reducing arrests the only way to reduce criminal bookings (and the employment-reducing effects of such bookings)? There may be another way.

Incarceration - CPI Research

Title Author Media
Imprisonment and Labor Market Outcomes: Evidence from a Natural Experiment David J. Harding, Jeffrey D. Morenoff, Anh P. Nguyen, Shawn D. Bushway

Imprisonment and Labor Market Outcomes: Evidence from a Natural Experiment

Author: David J. Harding, Jeffrey D. Morenoff, Anh P. Nguyen, Shawn D. Bushway
Publisher: American Journal of Sociology
Date: 07/2018

Because of racially disproportionate imprisonment rates, the literature on mass incarceration has focused on the labor market consequence of imprisonment and the implications of those effects for racial inequality. Yet, the effects of imprisonment itself, as distinct from conviction, are not well understood. The authors leverage a natural experiment based on the random assignment of judges to felony cases in Michigan to examine the causal effect of being sentenced to prison as compared to probation, stratifying by race and work history. The most widespread effect of imprisonment on employment occurs through incapacitation in prison, both for the initial prison sentence and through the heightened risk of subsequent imprisonment. Negative postrelease effects of imprisonment on employment, employment stability, and employment outside the secondary labor market are concentrated among whites with a presentence work history. Postrelease effects of imprisonment on employment among those with no work history are positive but fade over time.

Custodial Parole Sanctions and Earnings after Release from Prison David J. Harding, Jonah A Siegel, Jeffrey D. Morenoff

Custodial Parole Sanctions and Earnings after Release from Prison

Author: David J. Harding, Jonah A Siegel, Jeffrey D. Morenoff
Publisher: Social Forces
Date: 12/2017

Although the labor market consequences of incarceration in prison have been central to the literature on mass incarceration, punishment, and inequality, other components of the growing criminal justice system have received less attention from sociologists. In particular, the rise of mass incarceration was accompanied by an even larger increase in community supervision. In this paper, we examine the labor market effects of one frequently experienced aspect of post-prison parole, short-term custody for parole violations. Although such sanctions are viewed as an alternative to returning parole violators to prison, they have the potential to affect labor market outcomes in ways similar to imprisonment, including both adverse and positive effects on earnings. We estimate that parolees lost approximately 37 percent of their earnings in quarters during which they were in short-term custody. Although their earnings tended to increase in the quarter immediately following short-term custody—consistent with the stated intentions of such sanctions—parolees experienced further earnings loss over the longer term after such sanctions. In the third quarter following a short-term custody sanction, earnings are lowered by about 13 percent. These associations are larger for those who were employed in the formal labor market before their initial incarceration.

State of the Union 2017: Incarceration Becky Pettit, Bryan Sykes

State of the Union 2017: Incarceration

Author: Becky Pettit, Bryan Sykes
Publisher: Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality
Date: 06/2017

Despite observed declines in crime and much talk of criminal justice reform, the United States continues to incarcerate a much larger fraction of its population than any other advanced industrialized country. The burden of this intensive incarceration continues to fall disproportionately on black men: At the end of 2015, a full 9.1 percent of young black men (ages 20–34) were incarcerated, a rate that is 5.7 times that of young white men (1.6%). Fully 10 percent of black children had an incarcerated parent in 2015, compared with 3.6 percent of Hispanic children and 1.7 percent of white children.

Liberal But Not Stupid: Meeting the Promise of Downsizing Prisons Francis Cullen, Joan Petersilia

Liberal But Not Stupid: Meeting the Promise of Downsizing Prisons

Author: Francis Cullen, Joan Petersilia
Publisher: Stanford Criminal Law & Policy
Date: 06/2016

A confluence of factors—a perfect storm—interfered with the intractable rise of imprisonment and contributed to the emergence of a new sensibility defining continued mass imprisonment as non-sustainable. In this context, reducing America’s prisons has materialized as a viable possibility. For progressives who have long called for restraint in the use of incarceration, the challenge is whether the promise of downsizing can be met. The failure of past reforms aimed at decarceration stands as a sobering reminder that good intentions do not easily translate into good results. Further, a number of other reasons exist for why meaningful downsizing might well fail (e.g., the enormous scale of imprisonment that must be confronted, limited mechanisms available to release inmates, lack of quality alternative programs). Still, reasons also exist for optimism, the most important of which is the waning legitimacy of the paradigm of mass incarceration, which has produced efforts to lower inmate populations and close institutions in various states. The issue of downsizing will also remain at the forefront of correctional discourse because of the court-ordered reduction in imprisonment in California. This experiment is ongoing, but is revealing the difficulty of downsizing; the initiative appears to be producing mixed results (e.g., reductions in the state’s prison population but increases in local jail populations). In the end, successful downsizing must be “liberal but not stupid.” Thus, reform efforts must be guided not only by progressive values but also by a clear reliance on scientific knowledge about corrections and on a willingness to address the pragmatic issues that can thwart good intentions. Ultimately, a “criminology of downsizing” must be developed to foster effective policy interventions.

Improving Parole Release in America Edward Rhine , Joan Petersilia, Kevin R Reitz

Improving Parole Release in America

Author: Edward Rhine , Joan Petersilia, Kevin R Reitz
Publisher: Federal Sentencing Reporter
Date: 12/2015

This article lays out a ten-point program for the improvement of discretionary parole-release systems in America. Taken together, our recommendations coalesce into an ambitious model that has never before existed in the United States. Even if adopted separately, our recommendations would achieve substantial incremental improvements in the current practices of all paroling systems.

incarceration - CPI Affiliates

David Harding's picture David Harding Incarceration Research Group Leader, Associate Professor of Sociology
University of California, Berkeley
Hilary Hoynes's picture Hilary Hoynes Safety Net and Incarceration Research Group Leader, Professor of Public Policy and Economics, Haas Distinguished Chair in Economic Disparities
University of California, Berkeley
Joan Petersilia's picture Joan Petersilia Incarceration Research Group Leader, Adelbert H. Sweet Professor of Law, Faculty Co-Director of Stanford Criminal Justice Center
Stanford Law School
Becky Pettit's picture Becky Pettit Professor of Sociology; Faculty Affiliate, Population Research Center
University of Texas-Austin
Bruce Western's picture Bruce Western Professor of Sociology; Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice Policy; Director, Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy; Faculty Chair, Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management
Harvard University

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Incarceration - Other Research

Title Author Media
Formerly Incarcerated Parents and Their Children Bruce Western, Natalie Smith

Formerly Incarcerated Parents and Their Children

Author: Bruce Western, Natalie Smith
Publisher: Demography
Date: 06/2018

The negative effects of incarceration on child well-being are often linked to the economic insecurity of formerly incarcerated parents. Researchers caution, however, that the effects of parental incarceration may be small in the presence of multiple-partner fertility and other family complexity. Despite these claims, few studies have directly observed either economic insecurity or the full extent of family complexity. We study parent-child relationships with a unique data set that includes detailed information about economic insecurity and family complexity among parents just released from prison. We find that stable private housing, more than income, is associated with close and regular contact between parents and children. Formerly incarcerated parents see their children less regularly in contexts of multiple-partner fertility and in the absence of supportive family relationships. Significant housing and family effects are estimated even after we control for drug use and crime, which are themselves negatively related to parental contact. The findings point to the constraints of material insecurity and the complexity of family relationships on the contact between formerly incarcerated parents and their children.

Does a Criminal Past Predict Worker Performance? Evidence from One of America’s Largest Employers Jennifer Hickes Lundquist, Devah Pager, Eiko Strader

Does a Criminal Past Predict Worker Performance? Evidence from One of America’s Largest Employers

Author: Jennifer Hickes Lundquist, Devah Pager, Eiko Strader
Publisher: Social Forces
Date: 03/2018

This paper is one of the first systematic assessments of ex-felons’ workplace performance. Using FOIA-requested data from the Department of Defense, we follow 1.3 million ex-offender and non-offender enlistees in the US military from 2002 to 2009. Those with a felony background show no difference in attrition rates due to poor performance compared to those without criminal records. Moreover, ex-felons are promoted more quickly and to higher ranks than other enlistees. At the same time, we find that ex-felons are slightly more likely to commit a legal offense in the military system (5 percent of non-felons compared to 6.6 percent of ex-felons). We also find a higher rate of work-related deaths among the ex-felon sample; closer evaluation of limited data suggests this may be driven by ex-felons being assigned more often to combat positions. Overall, our study shows that the military’s criminal history screening process can result in successful employment outcomes for ex-felons, at least in terms of job mobility and reliability, to the mutual benefit of employer and employee. An important question arising from this analysis is whether the military’s “whole person” review can apply successfully to the civilian sector.

The Effect of Education and School Quality on Female Crime Javier Cano-Urbina, Lance Lochner

The Effect of Education and School Quality on Female Crime

Author: Javier Cano-Urbina, Lance Lochner
Publisher: NBER
Date: 11/2017

This paper estimates the effects of educational attainment and school quality on crime among American women. Using changes in compulsory schooling laws as instruments, we estimate significant effects of schooling attainment on the probability of incarceration using Census data from 1960-1980. Using data from the 1960-90 Uniform Crime Reports, we also estimate that increases in average schooling levels reduce arrest rates for violent and property crime but not white collar crime. Our results suggest small and mixed direct effects of school quality (as measured by pupil-teacher ratios, term length, and teacher salaries) on incarceration and arrests. Finally, we show that the effects of education on crime for women are unlikely to be due to changes in labor market opportunities and may be more related to changes in marital opportunities and family formation.

Community and the Crime Decline: The Causal Effect of Local Nonprofits on Violent Crime Patrick Sharkey, Gerard Torrats-Espinosa, Delaram Takyar

Community and the Crime Decline: The Causal Effect of Local Nonprofits on Violent Crime

Author: Patrick Sharkey, Gerard Torrats-Espinosa, Delaram Takyar
Publisher: American Sociological Review
Date: 10/2017

Largely overlooked in the theoretical and empirical literature on the crime decline is a long tradition of research in criminology and urban sociology that considers how violence is regulated through informal sources of social control arising from residents and organizations internal to communities. In this article, we incorporate the “systemic” model of community life into debates on the U.S. crime drop, and we focus on the role that local nonprofit organizations played in the national decline of violence from the 1990s to the 2010s. Using longitudinal data and a strategy to account for the endogeneity of nonprofit formation, we estimate the causal effect on violent crime of nonprofits focused on reducing violence and building stronger communities. Drawing on a panel of 264 cities spanning more than 20 years, we estimate that every 10 additional organizations focusing on crime and community life in a city with 100,000 residents leads to a 9 percent reduction in the murder rate, a 6 percent reduction in the violent crime rate, and a 4 percent reduction in the property crime rate.

The Non-Market Benefits of Education and Ability James J. Heckman, John Eric Humphries, Gregory Veramendi

The Non-Market Benefits of Education and Ability

Author: James J. Heckman, John Eric Humphries, Gregory Veramendi
Publisher: NBER
Date: 10/2017

This paper analyzes the non-market benefits of education and ability. Using a dynamic model of educational choice we estimate returns to education that account for selection bias and sorting on gains. We investigate a range of non-market outcomes including incarceration, mental health, voter participation, trust, and participation in welfare. We find distinct patterns of returns that depend on the levels of schooling and ability. Unlike the monetary benefits of education, the benefits to education for many non-market outcomes are greater for low-ability persons. College graduation decreases welfare use, lowers depression, and raises self-esteem more for less-able individuals.