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Increased Earned Release from Prison: Impacts of a 2003 Law on Recidivism and Crime Costs, Revised

NCJ Number
Date Published
16 pages

This revised document updates and extends the analysis from the previous, 2008 report; the authors report that the 2003 law to increase earned release time for certain types of adult offenders resulted in estimated increase in property crimes and a decrease in felony recidivism, and they present a cost-benefit analysis of those opposing effects.


This paper was produced in anticipation of the 2010 sunset of a 2003 Washington State law that granted an increase in earned release time for certain types of adult offenders. The authors noted that since the passage of that law, approximately 20 percent of all offenders who were released from prison were eligible for that 50 percent earned release time, and while the immediate effect of shorter stays in prison lowered costs, the authors examined whether the law also affected crime rates. In their analysis, the authors found that the law affected crime rates in two ways: it shortened prison length of stay by 63 days, during which time they estimated an increase in property crimes; and over the three year follow-up period, the felony recidivism rate of the early release offenders was decreased by 3.5 percent compared with similar offenders who stayed in prison 63 days longer. The authors’ cost-benefit analysis resulted in an estimated $15,359 benefit per offender from the following factors: reduced three-year recidivism; lowered prison costs from the reduced sentence; and increased labor market earnings. On the cost side, the authors estimated $8,179 in costs per offender due to the increased crimes during the 63-day period of reduced incapacitation. The document is divided into sections that present legal background, with a discussion of eligibility criteria for the 50 percent earned release time; evaluation design; recidivism findings; incapacitation effect; cost-benefit analysis; and a technical appendix that lays out study group matching procedures, sensitivity analysis for the cost-benefit estimates, and four charts.

Date Published: January 1, 2009