Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Discussion Paper Series in Economics,
Norwegian School of Economics, Department of Economics

No 3/2022: Failing to Follow the Rules: Can Imprisonment Lead to More Imprisonment Without More Actual Crime?

Catalina Franco (), David J. Harding (), Shawn D. Bushway () and Jeffrey Morenoff ()
Additional contact information
Catalina Franco: Dept. of Economics, Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration, Postal: NHH, Department of Economics, Helleveien 30, N-5045 Bergen, Norway
David J. Harding: University of California, Berkeley
Shawn D. Bushway: Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy, University at Albany (SUNY)
Jeffrey Morenoff: Sociology Department, Population Studies Center and Survey Research Center, University of Michigan

Abstract: We find that people involved in low-level crime receiving a prison sentence are more likely than those with non-prison sentences to be re-imprisoned due to technical violations of parole, rather than due to new crimes. We identify the extent and cost of this incapacitation effect among individuals with similar criminal histories using exogenous variation in sentence type from discontinuities in Michigan Sentencing Guidelines. Technical violations disproportionately affect drug users and those first arrested as juveniles. Higher re-imprisonment adds one-quarter to the original sentence’s incapacitation days while only preventing low-severity crime, suggesting that prison is cost-ineffective for individuals on the margin.

Keywords: Imprisonment; incapacitation; technical violations; sentencing guidelines

JEL-codes: K14; K42

Language: English

66 pages, First version: March 10, 2022. Revised: October 1, 2018.

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