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Relationship Between Prison Length of Stay and Recidivism: A Study Using Regression Discontinuity and Instrumental Variables With Multiple Break Points Criminology & Public Policy

NCJ Number
Criminology & Public Policy Volume: 17 Issue: 3 Dated: August 2018 Pages: 731-769
William Rhodes; Gerald G. Gaes; Ryan Kling; Christopher Cutler
Date Published
August 2018
39 pages
This study used both a regression discontinuity design and an instrumental variable identification strategy to examine the relationship between prison length of stay and recidivism among a large sample of federal offenders.
study referred to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines structure to apply these strong inference, quasi experimental approaches. It found that average length of stay can be reduced by 7.5 months with a small impact on recidivism. The study also examined whether there is treatment heterogeneity. It found that length of stay effects did not vary by criminal history, offense seriousness, sex, race, or education level. Regarding policy implications, the study shows that reducing the average length of stay for the federal prison population by 7.5 months could save the Bureau of Prisons 33,203 beds once the inmate population reaches steady state. This back of the envelope estimate reveals how reductions in time served can have a much larger impact on prison reductions compared with diverting low level offenders from prison to probation. Prison length of stay reductions can impact the entire prison population; whereas, diversion typically affects a small subset of offenders whose consumption of prison beds is a small fraction of the total number of beds. This article also discusses the potential impact of reducing levels of imprisonment on other collateral consequences. (publisher abstract modified)