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Using Michigan Sentencing Guidelines to Estimate Effects of Incarceration and Probation on Reoffending and Employment

a PSC Research Project

Investigators:   Jeffrey Morenoff, David J. Harding

The causal effects of incarceration are difficult to estimate because the differences in outcomes between offenders sentenced to prison/jail vs. probation, even for the same offense, may be due to pre-existing and unmeasured differences between these groups that affect both the sentencing decision and the outcome under study. Recently, several studies have attempted to overcome this problem by using the random assignment of cases to judges as an “instrument” that generates cleaner counterfactual comparisons between offenders who received custodial vs. non-custodial sanctions, such that inferences about the effects of incarceration on future reoffending [2,3] and employment/earnings [4,5] are less vulnerable to such residual confounding. The logic is that if (a) there is substantial variation across judges in how they would sentence the same offender and (b) the determination of the judge is random (or at least unrelated to pre-existing differences between groups of offenders), then the instrument will isolate the variation in the treatment (e.g., incarceration) that is unrelated to pre-existing differences. Such studies advance the literature on the ef¬fects of incarceration and warrant replication on larger and more representative samples. However, the strategy of using judges as instruments for studying the effects of incarceration also has limitations, some of which can be addressed through more powerful research designs. Our pro¬posed study would replicate and extend quasi-experimental research on the effects of custodial sanctions by accomplishing the following objectives: Collecting/ archiving a unique data set, Multiple Identification Strategies, and other analytic advances.

Funding Period: 06/01/2011 to 05/31/2014

Country of Focus: USA

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