Incarceration versus probation? Long-run evidence from an anticipated reform

Camille Hemet

October 22, 2020, 11:00–12:30

Room Zoom


How do individuals convicted to incarceration fare in terms of later crime and labor market outcomes compared to those who receive a non-custodial sentence? We answer this question by taking advantage of a Danish reform whereby most offenders tried for a drunk-driving crime were placed on probation rather than sentenced to incarceration. Our first key finding is that stakeholders anticipated the consequences of the reform: we observe a significant selection in the nature of the cases tried before and after the reform. To measure its impact, we resort to a novel instrumental variable approach exploiting quasi-exogenous variation in the probability of being tried after the reform and therefore incarcerated, based on the crime date. We find that incarcerated offenders commit more crimes and have weaker ties to the labor market than those placed on probation. The effects are particularly strong among young offenders. Our findings suggest that economic precariousness is an important mechanism explaining subsequent criminal behavior.


Camille Hemet, Incarceration versus probation? Long-run evidence from an anticipated reform, Behavior, Institutions, and Development seminar, October 22, 2020, 11:00–12:30, room Zoom.