Hanging Out with the Usual Suspects: Peer Effects and Recidivism

Journal of Human Resources (forthcoming), 2020

Abstract: Social interactions within neighborhoods, schools and detention facilities are important determinants of criminal behavior. However, little is known about the degree to which neighborhood peers affect successful community re-entry following incarceration. This paper measures the influence of social networks on recidivism by exploiting the fact that neighborhood peers may be locked up when a prisoner returns home. Using detailed arrest and incarceration data that includes residential addresses for offenders, we find consistent and robust evidence that a former inmate is less likely to reoffend if more of his peers are held captive while he reintegrates into society.

Recommended citation: Billings, Stephen B., and Kevin T. Schnepel (2020). "Hanging Out with the Usual Suspects: Peer Effects and Recidivism." Journal of Human Resources. Forthcoming.

Diversion in the Criminal Justice System

The Review of Economic Studies (forthcoming), 2020

Abstract: This paper provides the first causal estimates on the popular, cost-saving practice of diversion in the criminal justice system, an intervention that provides offenders with a second chance to avoid a criminal record. We exploit two natural experiments in Harris County, Texas where first-time felony defendants faced abrupt changes in the probability of diversion. Using administrative data and regression discontinuity methods, we find robust evidence across both experiments that diversion cuts reoffending rates in half (-32 p.p.) and grows quarterly employment rates by 53 percent (+18 p.p.) over 10 years. The change in trajectory persists even 20 years out and is concentrated among young black men. An investigation of mechanisms indicates that stigma associated with a felony conviction plays a key role in generating these results. Other possible mechanisms including changes in incarceration, universal adjustments in policy or practice, and differences in criminal processing are ruled out empirically.

Recommended citation: Mueller-Smith, Michael, and Kevin T. Schnepel (2020). "Diversion in the Criminal Justice System." The Review of Economic Studies. Forthcoming.

Life after Lead: Effects of Early Interventions for Children Exposed to Lead

American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 2018

Abstract: Lead pollution is consistently linked to cognitive and behavioral impairments, yet little is known about the benefits of public health interventions for children exposed to lead. This paper estimates the long-term impacts of early-life interventions (e.g. lead remediation, nutritional assessment, medical evaluation, developmental surveillance, and public assistance referrals) recommended for lead-poisoned children. Using linked administrative data from Charlotte, NC, we compare outcomes for children who are similar across observable characteristics but differ in eligibility for intervention due to blood lead test results. We find that the negative outcomes previously associated with early-life exposure can largely be reversed by intervention.

Recommended citation: Billings, Stephen B., and Kevin T. Schnepel (2018). "Life after Lead: Effects of Early Interventions for Children Exposed to Lead." American Economic Journal: Applied Economics. 10(3).

Good Jobs and Recidivism

The Economic Journal, 2018

Abstract: I estimate the impact of employment opportunities on recidivism among 1.7 million offenders released from a California prison between 1993 and 2008. The institutional structure of the California criminal justice system as well as location, skill, and industry‐specific job accession data provide a unique framework for identifying a causal effect of job availability on criminal behaviour. I find that increases in construction and manufacturing opportunities at the time of release are associated with significant reductions in recidivism. Other types of opportunities, including those characterised by lower wages that are typically accessible to individuals with criminal records, do not influence recidivism.

Recommended citation: Schnepel, Kevin T. (2018). "Good Jobs and Recidivism." The Economic Journal. 128(608).

Do post-prison job opportunities reduce recidivism?

IZA World of Labor, 2017

Elevator Pitch: The majority of individuals released from prison face limited employment opportunities and do not successfully reintegrate into society. The inability to find stable work is often cited as a key determinant of failed re-entry (or “recidivism”). However, empirical evidence that demonstrates a causal impact of job opportunities on recidivism is sparse. In fact, several randomized evaluations of employment-focused programs find increases in employment but little impact on recidivism. Recent evidence points to wages and job quality as important determinants of recidivism among former prisoners.

Recommended citation: Schnepel, Kevin T. (2017). "Do post-prison job opportunities reduce recidivism?." IZA World of Labor. 399.

Asymptotic Behavior of a t-Test Robust to Cluster Heterogeneity

Review of Economics and Statistics, 2017

Abstract: For a cluster-robust t-statistic under cluster heterogeneity we establish that the cluster-robust t-statistic has a gaussian asymptotic null distribution and develop the effective number of clusters, which scales down the actual number of clusters, as a guide to the behavior of the test statistic. The implications for hypothesis testing in applied work are that the number of clusters, rather than the number of observations, should be reported as the sample size, and the effective number of clusters should be reported to guide inference. If the effective number of clusters is large, testing based on critical values from a normal distribution is appropriate.

Recommended citation: Carter, Andrew V., Kevin T. Schnepel, and Douglas G. Steigerwald (2017). "Asymptotic Behavior of a t-Test Robust to Cluster Heterogeneity." Review of Economics and Statistics. 99(4).

The value of a healthy home: Lead paint remediation and housing values

Journal of Public Economics, 2017

Abstract: The presence of lead paint significantly impairs cognitive and behavioral development, yet little is known about the value to households of avoiding this residence-specific environmental health risk. In this paper, we estimate the benefits of lead-paint remediation on housing prices. Using data on all homes that applied to a HUD-funded program in Charlotte, North Carolina, we adopt a difference-in-differences estimator that compares values among remediated properties with those for which an inspection does not identify a lead paint hazard. Results indicate large returns for public and private investment in remediation with each $1 spent on lead remediation generating $2.60 in benefits as well as a reduction in residential turnover.

Recommended citation: Billings, Stephen B., and Kevin T. Schnepel (2017). "The value of a healthy home: Lead paint remediation and housing values." Journal of Public Economics. 153.

Economics of Incarceration

Australian Economic Review, 2016

Abstract: Incarceration rates have more than doubled in Australia over the past several decades, with a dramatic increase since 2010. There are many mechanisms by which these changes in imprisonment exert a causal influence on individual behaviour. The threat of incarceration can deter an individual from committing a crime. The experience of incarceration incapacitates a criminal but can also expose a prisoner to more criminal peers and reduce future legal employment opportunities. This article provides students an introduction to a rapidly expanding economics literature that empirically tests the mechanisms of incarceration and estimates its costs and benefits.

Recommended citation: Schnepel, Kevin T. (2016). "Economics of Incarceration." Australian Economic Review. 49(4).

College Football Games and Crime

Journal of Sports Economics, 2009

Abstract: There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence that college football games can lead to aggressive and destructive behavior by fans. However, to date, no empirical study has attempted to document the magnitude of this phenomenon. We match daily data on offenses from the National Incident-Based Reporting System to 26 Division I-A college football programs to estimate the relationship between college football games and crime. Our results suggest that the host community registers sharp increases in assaults, vandalism, arrests for disorderly conduct, and arrests for alcohol-related offenses on game days. Upsets are associated with the largest increases in the number of expected offenses.

Recommended citation: Rees, Daniel I., and Kevin T. Schnepel. (2009). "College Football Games and Crime." Journal of Sports Economics. 10(1).