DC Court House Observations Is probation merely an instrument to inexpensively process millions of offenders? Within 3 years, 46 percent of felony probationers had been sent to prison or jail or had absconded. Felony cases went from 50 percent of the probation population in 2005 to 57 percent in 2015 Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. […]
Every one-dollar increase in minimum wage decreases recidivism rates by four percent, according to a study of six million state prisoners between 2000 and 2014. The working paper is written by two economists who say their findings support arguments that higher wages in unskilled jobs make former prisoners less likely to look for illegal sources of income.
Raising the minimum wage can reduce recidivism rates for the formerly incarcerated, who may otherwise be tempted to return to higher paying criminal activities such as property theft and drug offenses rather that join the labor market, according to a new study.
Researchers analyzing data on nearly six million prisoners in state-run facilities from 2000 to 2014, found that an eight percent increase in minimum wage leads to a two percent decrease in prisoner re-entry rates.
Moreover, for every one dollar increase in minimum wage, there is a four percent decrease in recidivism, said the authors of the study—Amanda Y. Agan, an assistant professor of economics at Rutgers University, and Michael D. Makowsky, an assistant professor of economics at Clemson University—who used data from the National Corrections Reporting Program and the Bureau of Justice Statistics on prison admissions and releases to compile their results.
Citing studies that show recently released prisoners “tend to have lower human capital and interrupted work histories,” Agan and Makowski argued that their findings suggest the need for a broader approach to wage policies in the low-skilled labor market, where a majority of the formerly incarcerated would likely find employment.
“Understanding how (low-wage labor market policies) impact released prisoners can help us understand the mechanisms underlying recidivism and aid in breaking the revolving door of prison,” they wrote.
They added: “Rather than assume legal employment is the dominant option, we model the decision as a choice between legal and illegal activities.”
Notably, they found, higher minimum wages for formerly incarcerated men and women without a high school diploma can lead to even lower rates of recidivism.
Every dollar that an individual without a diploma makes leads to a seven percent decrease in re-entry, the researchers wrote.
“For other participants in the low-skill labor market (non-criminals), the next best alternative to legal employment [could be] leisure or school; the prospect of a higher minimum wage making employment more attractive is a private outcome with little consequences,” the study said.
“But for released prisoners, on the other hand, their next best alternative to legal employment may instead be criminal behavior.”
Generally, formerly incarcerated individuals face stigmas about their criminal activity, making it difficult to find work. As of 2016, there were 6,392 separate state restrictions on employment eligibility for those with felony records.
While the study found that increased wages led ex-offenders to commit fewer income generating crimes, they acknowledged that increasing the minimum wage had no significant effect on other crimes, such as ‘crimes of passion.’
The authors said their research was also not applicable to parole violations.
“Higher minimum wage in terms of reducing recidivism only applies to new crimes the offender may commit, not violations of his/her parole,” they wrote.
For women, access to state Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) was also associated with lower re-entry rates.
A one percent standard deviation increase in state EITC corresponds to a six percent reduction in recidivism for women, their results showed.
“For recently released prisoners, the minimum wage and availability of EITC can influence both their ability to find employment and their potential legal wages relative to illegal sources of income, in turn affecting the probability they return to prison,” Makowsky and Agan concluded.
This is only applicable to women though, because of the availability of EITC to single mothers, they noted.
The above study is a working paper, and can be downloaded for purchase here, or by contacting the authors directly. Journalists who wish to receive a free copy should contact firstname.lastname@example.org. This summary was prepared by TCR staffer Megan Hadley. Readers’ comments are welcome.
Observations Is an honest discussion about offender rehabilitation programs possible? The collective data indicate that programs for offenders either don’t work, or make things worse, or have very limited results. If we support offender rehabilitation, we need to question current results. We need to demand better answers. If we don’t, nothing will change. Author Leonard […]
Observations Prison populations fell considerably. Why? What are the impacts for crime and criminal justice policy? Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of […]
Two computer scientists, writing in the journal “Science Advances,” say the two-decade-old COMPAS system is no more accurate or fair than predictions made by people with little or no criminal justice expertise.” Over the past two decades, the program has been used to assess more than one million criminal offenders.
Two computer scientists have cast more doubt on the accuracy of risk assessment tools.
After comparing predictions made by a group of untrained adults to those of the risk assessment software COMPAS, authors found that the software “is no more accurate or fair than predictions made by people with little or no criminal justice expertise,” and that, moreover, “a simple linear predictor provided with only two features is nearly equivalent to COMPAS with its 137 features.”
Julia Dressel, a software engineer, and Hany Farid, a computer science professor at Dartmouth, concluded, in a paper published Tuesday by Science Advances, that “collectively, these results cast significant doubt on the entire effort of algorithmic recidivism prediction.”
COMPAS, short for Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions, has been used to assess more than one million criminal offenders since its inception two decades ago.
In response to a May 2016 investigation by Propublica that concluded the software is both unreliable and racially biased, Northpointe defended its results, arguing the algorithm discriminates between recidivists and non recidivists equally well for both white and black defendants. Propublica stood by its own study, and the debate ended in a stalemate.
Rather than weigh in on the algorithm’s fairness, authors of this study simply compared the software’s results to that of “untrained humans,” and found that “people from a popular online crowdsourcing marketplace—who, it can reasonably be assumed, have little to no expertise in criminal justice—are as accurate and fair as COMPAS at predicting recidivism.”
Each of the untrained participants were randomly assigned 50 cases from a pool of 1000 defendants, and given a few facts including the defendant’s age, sex and criminal history, but excluding race. They were asked to predict the likelihood of re-offending within two years. The mean and median accuracy of these “untrained humans” to be 62.1% and 64%, respectively.
Authors then compared these results to COMPAS predictions for the same set of 1000 defendants, and found the program to have a median accuracy of 65.2 percent.
These results caused Dressel and Farid to wonder about the software’s level of sophistication.
Although they don’t have access to the algorithm, which is proprietary information, they created their own predictive model with the same inputs given participants in their study.
“Despite using only 7 features as input, a standard linear predictor yields similar results to COMPAS’s predictor with 137 features,” the authors wrote. “We can reasonably conclude that COMPAS is using nothing more sophisticated than a linear predictor or its equivalent.”
Both study participants and COMPAS were found to have the same level of accuracy for black and white defendants.
The full study, “The accuracy, fairness, and limits of predicting recidivism,” was published in Science Advances and can be found online here. This summary was prepared by Deputy Editor Victoria Mckenzie. She welcomes readers’ comments.
Overview A new federal report offers comparisons of recidivism as to age and a variety of additional factors. For offenders age 24 or younger at the time of release, 63.2 percent of federal prisoners were rearrested within five years compared to over four-fifths (84.1%) of state prisoners. Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Thirty-five years of […]
Observations Do drug and other specialty courts reduce recidivism? President Trump Wants Drug Courts-Do They Work? Like evaluations of programs for serious offenders, outcomes for drug, mental health, and veteran’s courts are limited to small decreases in recidivism. For many, the focus is on low-level, low-risk offenders who may not need intensive treatment. Author Leonard […]
Pennsylvania corrections chief John Wetzel launched the two-day Washington meeting with an appeal to legislators, corrections administrators, police chiefs and health officials to work together on evidence-based solutions. Another speaker said the White House would back unspecified reforms.
To many Americans, “criminal justice reform” means addressing two prominent challenges: reining in abusive police officers or cutting prison populations.
This week, the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Association of State Correctional Administrators brought teams from all 50 states to Washington, D.C., to underline the fact that reform means much more than that.
In opening remarks Monday to the two-day “50-State Summit on Public Safety,” Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John E. Wetzel called on fellow justice officials to abandon the “stovepipe approach” of handling issues in isolated silos of the justice system and seek cooperation with experts in other areas.
Wetzel’s remarks set the tone for the meeting, which was aimed at presenting officials in each state with a detailed analysis of their crime issues, including trends in arrests, recidivism and “behavioral health,” and help them come up with evidence-based solutions.
Summit attendees include all state prison directors, 41 state legislators, 35 state behavioral health directors, 15 police chiefs, and 12 sheriffs.
A major theme that surfaced early in the session is that issues often labelled as “criminal justice” problems, such as mental illness and addiction, can be handled just as well by public health authorities.
“Mental health needs are overwhelming the criminal justice system,” warned Fred Osher of the state government group, who presided over a panel on “Growing Crises.”
“Crime in the U.S. often is described only in terms of national trends, while in reality, the problem differs greatly among states and localities. For example, the violent crime rate nationally is much lower than it was in the 1990s, but 18 states have reported rising violence totals in recent years.”
A panel of three police chiefs, Renee Hall of Dallas, J. Thomas Manger of Montgomery County, Md., and Anthony Campbell of New Haven, Ct., discussed a range of approaches being tried in their areas, including more police involvement with schools, and programs to help chronic criminals get jobs.
Hall said police “are not social workers,” but they still believe in forging partnerships with businesses and outside the justice system to help reduce repeat criminality.
In fact, recidivism is another major topic of discussion at the summit, particularly trying to reduce repeated crime among people on probation, a topic not often discussed at such conferences.
Critics often point to the U.S. prison and jail population that tops 2 million, but it’s often overlooked that more than twice as many are on probation or parole.
Repeat crime among those released from prison is 40 percent or more in many states, depending on how it’s measured. The fact that more than 4.6 million people were on probation or parole as of 2015 means that even the lower repeat-crime rate among those convicts mean many more total “recidivism events” by probationers every year, said the Council of State Governments’ Andy Barbee.
Criminologist Edward Latessa of the University of Cincinnati told the conference that too many probation and parole officers act like “referees” whose main job is to determine whether probationers and parolees have violated rules and should be sent back to custody.
Instead, he argued, they should be trained more as “coaches” to take active steps that would prevent those on their caseloads from reoffending.
Bryan Collier, criminal justice director in Texas, and Kathy Waters, probation director for the Arizona Supreme Court, described how their states have used variations on that approach to reduce the totals of people whose probation and parole has been revoked in recent years. Such offenders have accounted for a large percentage of new prison admittees in many states.
The conference heard about a new “Face to Face” program sponsored by the Council of State Governments Justice Center in which public officials are encouraged to meet directly with convicts to hear about their challenges in getting job training or education behind bars.
Attendees were shown a video of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds visiting prisons. The effort is a bipartisan one. Participants so far include Reynolds, a Republican, along with Republican governors of Georgia, Missouri, and Nevada, and Democratic governors in Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Montana, and North Carolina.
One governor who has criminal justice reform high on the agenda is Republican Matt Bevin of Kentucky, a businessman who made a featured appearance at the summit on Monday.
Bevin has backed reforms including easier expungement of some criminal records by former inmates and “banning the box” to bar state officials from asking applicants about their criminal pasts.
He also has started pilot programs in seven adult and juvenile corrections facilities to improve job training for inmates, and is working to remove prohibitions on former convicts’ obtaining state licenses for many occupations.
Bevin took part in a recent White House meeting with Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, to discuss potential justice reforms on the federal level.
The governor said he came away “very confident” that the White House will back reform measures, although he didn’t specify which ones.
Bevin said he was not confident that Congress would agree, although he praised several Republicans, including his state’s Sen. Rand Paul, for joining the reform movement.
After the summit, the U.S. Justice Department will offer “technical assistance” to as many as 25 states to pursue reform measures.
The Council of State Governments Justice Center will issue a report in January with its detailed state crime and justice findings.
The summit is being funded by DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Tow Foundation.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.
Observations Electronic monitoring data on reductions of technical violations and returns to prison indicate the possibility of a more effective and humane way to supervise high-risk offenders. But the only effective way for that to happen is to staff a real-time, 24-365 operation where there are experts to evaluate the data points and to come […]
Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University. Article Three […]