• 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
State of the Union 2019: Criminal Justice Bruce Western, Jessica Simes

State of the Union 2019: Criminal Justice

Author: Bruce Western, Jessica Simes
Publisher: Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality
Date: 06/2019
  • The recent reversal in overall incarceration rates takes the form of an especially prominent decline in rates of imprisonment for black millennial men in their late 20s. The decline is far less dramatic for other population groups—such as white and Hispanic men—that never experienced the extremely high rates that black men experienced.
  • The imprisonment rate for black millennial men—approximately 4.7 percent—nonetheless remains extremely high.
  • Conventional incarceration rates conceal important features of the millennial experience. For example, black millennial men continue to face extremely high risks of solitary confinement, and they continue to live with the effects of mass incarceration via their parents’ exposure to historically high rates of imprisonment.


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.

Imprisoning America: The Social Effects of Mass Incarceration

Imprisoning America: The Social Effects of Mass Incarceration

Publisher: Russell Sage Foundation

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
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
Robert J. Sampson's picture Robert J. Sampson Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences
Harvard University


Incarceration - Other Research

Title Author Media
Racialized Re-Entry: Labor Market Inequality After Incarceration Western, Bruce, Sirois, Catherine

Racialized Re-Entry: Labor Market Inequality After Incarceration

Author: Western, Bruce, Sirois, Catherine
Publisher: Social Forces
Date: 10/2018

Why do some people succeed in the labor market after incarceration but others do not? We study the transition from prison to work with data on monthly employment and earnings for a sample of men and women observed for a year after incarceration. More than in earlier research, the data provide detailed measurement of temporary and informal employment and richly describe the labor market disadvantages of formerly incarcerated men and women. We find that half the sample is jobless in any given month and average earnings are well below the poverty level. By jointly modeling employment and earnings, we show that blacks and Hispanics have lower total earnings than whites even after accounting for health, human capital, social background, crime and criminal justice involvement, and job readiness. A decomposition attributes most of the earnings gaps to racial and ethnic inequalities in employment. Qualitative interviews suggest that whites more than blacks and Hispanics find stable, high-paying jobs through social networks. These findings support a hypothesis of racialized re-entry that helps explain the unusual disadvantage of African Americans at the nexus of the penal system and the labor market.

Incarceration Spillovers in Criminal and Family Networks Manudeep Bhuller, Gordon B. Dahl, Katrine V. Løken, Magne Mogstad

Incarceration Spillovers in Criminal and Family Networks

Author: Manudeep Bhuller, Gordon B. Dahl, Katrine V. Løken, Magne Mogstad
Publisher: NBER
Date: 08/2018

Using quasi-random assignment of criminal cases to judges, we estimate large incarceration spillovers in criminal and brother networks. When a defendant is sent to prison, there are 51 and 32 percentage point reductions in the probability his criminal network members and younger brothers will be charged with a crime, respectively, over the ensuing four years. Correlational evidence misleadingly finds small positive effects. These spillovers are of first order importance for policy, as the network reductions in future crimes committed are larger than the direct effect on the incarcerated defendant.

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.