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Using Random Judge Assignments to Estimate the Effects of Incarceration and Probation on Recidivism Among Drug Offenders

Criminology, May 2010

31 Pages Posted: 29 Oct 2009 Last revised: 15 Jun 2010

Donald P. Green

Columbia University

Daniel Winik

Yale University - Law School

Date Written: October 28, 2009

Abstract

Most prior studies of recidivism have used observational data to estimate the causal effect of imprisonment or probation on the probability that a convicted individual is re-arrested after release. Very few studies have taken advantage of the fact that in some jurisdictions, defendants are randomly assigned to judges who vary in sentencing tendencies. The present study investigates whether defendants who are randomly assigned to more punitive judges have different recidivism probabilities than defendants who are assigned to relatively lenient judges. We track 1,003 defendants charged with drug-related offenses (and no non-drug-related offenses) who were randomly assigned to nine judicial calendars between June 1, 2002 and May 9, 2003. Judges on these calendars meted out sentences that varied substantially in terms of prison and probation time. We tracked defendants using court records over a four-year period following the disposition of their cases in order to determine whether they were subsequently re-arrested. Our results indicate that randomly-assigned variations in prison and probation time have no detectable effect on rates of re-arrest. The findings suggest that, at least among those facing drug-related charges, incarceration and supervision seem not to deter subsequent criminal behavior.

Keywords: Recidivism, sentencing, specific deterrence, drug crime, natural experiments

JEL Classification: K14, K42

Suggested Citation

Green, Donald P. and Winik, Daniel, Using Random Judge Assignments to Estimate the Effects of Incarceration and Probation on Recidivism Among Drug Offenders (October 28, 2009). Criminology, May 2010. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1477673

Donald P. Green (Contact Author)

Columbia University ( email )

7th Floor, International Affairs Bldg.
420 W. 118th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

Daniel Winik

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

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