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Crime and high rates of incarceration impose tremendous costs on society, with lasting negative
effects on individuals, families, and communities. Rates of crime in the United States have been falling steadily, but still
constitute a serious economic and social challenge. At the same time, the incarceration rate in the United States is so
high—more than 700 out of every 100,000 people are incarcerated—that both crime scholars and policymakers alike
question whether, for nonviolent criminals in particular, the social costs of incarceration exceed the social benefits.
While there is significant focus on America’s incarceration policies, it is important to consider that crime continues to
be a concern for policymakers, particularly at the state and local levels. Public spending on fighting crime—including
the costs of incarceration, policing, and judicial and legal services—as well as private spending by households and
businesses is substantial. There are also tremendous costs to the victims of crime, such as medical costs, lost earnings,
and an overall loss in quality of life. Crime also stymies economic growth. For example, exposure to violence can inhibit
effective schooling and other developmental outcomes (Burdick-Will 2013; Sharkey et al. 2012). Crime can induce
citizens to migrate; economists estimate that each nonfatal violent crime reduces a city’s population by approximately
one person, and each homicide reduces a city’s population by seventy persons (Cullen and Levitt 1999; Ludwig and
Cook 2000). To the extent that migration diminishes a locality’s tax and consumer base, departures threaten a city’s
ability to effectively educate children, provide social services, and maintain a vibrant economy.
The good news is that crime rates in the United States have been falling steadily since the 1990s, reversing an upward
trend from the 1960s through the 1980s. There does not appear to be a consensus among scholars about how to account
for the overall sharp decline, but contributing factors may include increased policing, rising incarceration rates, and
the waning of the crack epidemic that was prevalent in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Despite the ongoing decline in crime, the incarceration rate in the United States remains at a historically
unprecedented level. This high incarceration rate can have profound effects on society; research has shown
that incarceration may impede employment and marriage prospects among former inmates, increase poverty
depth and behavioral problems among their children, and amplify the spread of communicable diseases among disproportionately impacted communities (Raphael 2007). These
effects are especially prevalent within disadvantaged communities
and among those demographic groups that are more likely to
face incarceration, namely young minority males. In addition,
this high rate of incarceration is expensive for both federal and
state governments. On average, in 2012, it cost more than $29,000
to house an inmate in federal prison (Congressional Research
Service 2013). In total, the United States spent over $80 billion
on corrections expenditures in 2010, with more than 90 percent
of these expenditures occurring at the state and local levels
(Kyckelhahn and Martin 2013).
A founding principle of The Hamilton Project’s economic strategy
is that long-term prosperity is best achieved by fostering economic growth and broad participation in that growth. Elevated rates of
crime and incarceration directly work against these principles,
marginalizing individuals, devastating affected communities, and
perpetuating inequality. In this spirit, we offer “Ten Economic
Facts about Crime and Incarceration in the United States” to
bring attention to recent trends in crime and incarceration, the
characteristics of those who commit crimes and those who are
incarcerated, and the social and economic costs of current policy.
Chapter 1 describes recent crime trends in the United States and
the characteristics of criminal offenders and victims. Chapter 2
focuses on the growth of mass incarceration in America. Chapter
3 presents evidence on the economic and social costs of current
crime and incarceration policy.
Fact 1. Crime rates have steadily declined over the past twenty-five years.
After a significant explosion in crime rates between the 1960s and
the 1980s, the United States has experienced a steady decline in crime
rates over the past twenty-five years. As illustrated in figure 1, crime
rates fell nearly 30 percent between 1991 and 2001, and subsequently
fell an additional 22 percent between 2001 and 2012. This measure,
calculated by the FBI, incorporates both violent crimes (e.g., murder
and aggravated assault) and property crimes (e.g., burglary and
larceny-theft). Individually, rates of property and violent crime have
followed similar trends, falling 29 percent and 33 percent, respectively,
between 1991 and 2001 (U.S. Department of Justice [DOJ] 2010b).
Social scientists have struggled to provide adequate explanations
for the sharp and persistent decline in crime rates. Economists
have focused on a few potential factors—including an increased
number of police on the streets, rising rates of incarceration, and
the waning of the crack epidemic—to explain the drop in crime
(Levitt 2004). In the 1990s, police officers per capita increased by approximately 14 percent. During this same decade, sentencing
policies grew stricter and the U.S. prison population swelled,
which had both deterrence (i.e., prevention of further crime by
increasing the threat of punishment) and incapacitation (i.e., the
inability to commit a crime because of being imprisoned) effects
on criminals (Abrams 2011; Johnson and Raphael 2012; Levitt
2004). The waning of the crack epidemic reduced crime primarily
through a decline in the homicide rates associated with crack
markets in the late 1980s.
Though crime rates have fallen, they remain an important policy
issue. In particular, some communities, often those with lowincome residents, still experience elevated rates of certain types of
crime despite the national decline.
Figure 1. Crime Rate in the United States, 1960–2012
Source: DOJ 2010b; authors' calculations.
Note: The crime rate includes all violent crimes (i.e., aggravated assault, forcible rape, murder, and robbery) and property crimes (i.e., burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft).
Fact 2. Low-income individuals are more likely than higher-income individuals to be victims of crime.
Across all types of personal crimes, victimization rates are
significantly higher for individuals living in low-income households,
as shown in figure 2. In 2008, the latest year for which data are
available, the victimization rate for all personal crimes among
individuals with family incomes of less than $15,000 was over three
times the rate of those with family incomes of $75,000 or more
(DOJ 2010a). The most prevalent crime for low-income victims was
assault, followed closely by acts of attempted violence, at 33 victims
and 28 victims per 1,000 residents, respectively. For those in the
higher-income bracket, these rates were significantly lower at only
11 victims and 9 victims per 1,000 residents, respectively.
Because crime tends to concentrate in disadvantaged areas, low-income individuals living in these communities are even more likely
to be victims. Notably, evidence from the Moving to Opportunity
program—a multiyear federal research demonstration project that
combined rental assistance with housing counseling to help families
with very low incomes move from areas with a high concentration of poverty—suggests that moving into a less-poor neighborhood
significantly reduces child criminal victimization rates. In
particular, children of families that moved as a result of receiving
both a housing voucher to move to a new location and counseling
assistance experienced personal crime victimization rates that
were 13 percentage points lower than those who did not receive any
voucher or assistance (Katz, Kling, and Liebman 2000).
Victims of personal crimes face both tangible costs, including
medical costs, lost earnings, and costs related to victim assistance
programs, and intangible costs, such as pain, suffering, and lost
quality of life (Miller, Cohen, and Wiersama 1996). There are
also public health consequences to crime victimization. Since
homicide rates are so high for young African American men, men
in this demographic group lose more years of life before age sixtyfive to homicide than they do to heart disease, which is the nation’s
overall leading killer (Heller et al. 2013).
Figure 2. Victimization Rates for Persons Age 12 or Older, by Type of Crime and Annual Family Income, 2008
Source: DOJ 2010a; authors' calculations.
Note: The victimization rate is defined as the number of individuals who were victims of crime over a six-month period for every 100,000 U.S. residents.
Fact 3. The majority of criminal offenders are younger than age thirty.
Juveniles make up a significant portion of offenders each year.
More than one quarter (27 percent) of known offenders—defined
as individuals with at least one identifiable characteristic that were
involved in a crime incident, whether or not an arrest was made—
were individuals ages eleven to twenty, and an additional 34 percent
were ages twenty-one to thirty; all other individuals composed
fewer than 40 percent of offenders. As seen in figure 3, this trend
holds for all types of crimes. More specifically, 55 percent of
offenders committing crimes against persons (such as assault and
sex offenses) were ages eleven to thirty. For crimes against property
(such as larceny-theft and vandalism) and crimes against society
(including drug offenses and weapon law violations), 63 percent
and 66 percent of offenders, respectively, were individuals in the
eleven-to-thirty age group.
A stark difference in the number of offenders by gender is also
evident. Most crimes—whether against persons, property, or
society—are committed by men; of criminal offenders with
known gender, 72 percent are male. This trend for gender follows
for crimes against persons (73 percent), crimes against property
(70 percent), and crimes against society (77 percent) (DOJ 2012).
Combined, these facts indicate that most offenders in the United
States are young men.
Some social scientists explain this age profile of crime by appealing
to a biological perspective on criminal behavior, focusing on the
impaired decision-making capabilities of the adolescent brain in
particular. There are also numerous social theories that emphasize
youth susceptibility to societal pressures, namely their concern
with identity formation, peer reactions, and establishing their
independence (O’Donoghue and Rabin 2001).
Figure 3. Number of Offenders in the United States, by Age and Offense Category, 2012
Source: DOJ 2012; authors' calculations.
Note: The FBI defines crimes against persons as crimes whose victims are always individuals. Crimes against property are those with the goal of obtaining money, property, or some other benefit. Crimes against society are those that represent society's prohibition against engaging in certain types of activity, and are typically victimless crimes (DOJ 2011). Offender data include characteristics of each offender involved in a crime incident whether or not an arrest has been made; offenders with unknown ages are excluded from the analysis. Additionally, incidents with unknown offenders—1,741,162 incidents in 2012—are excluded. For more details, see the technical appendix.
Fact 4. Disadvantaged youths engage in riskier criminal behavior.
Youths from low-income families (those with incomes at or below
200 percent of the federal poverty level) are equally likely to commit
drug-related offenses than are their higher-income counterparts.
As seen in figure 4, low-income youths are just as likely to use
marijuana by age sixteen, and to use other drugs or sell drugs by age
eighteen. In contrast, low-income youths are more likely to engage in
violent and property crimes than are youths from middle- and highincome families. In particular, low-income youths are significantly
more likely to attack someone or get into a fight, join a gang, or steal
something worth more than $50. In other words, youths from lowincome families are more likely to engage in crimes that involve or
affect other people than are youths from higher-income families.
A standard economics explanation for the socioeconomic profile
of property crime is that for poor youths the attractiveness of
alternatives to crime is low: if employment opportunities are
limited for teens living in poor neighborhoods, then property
crime becomes relatively more attractive. The heightened
likelihood of violent crime among poor youths raises the issue
of automatic behaviors—in other words, youths intuitively
responding to perceived threats—which has become the focus of
recent research in this field. However, the similar rates of drug
use across teens from different income groups is consistent with
a more general model of risky teenage activity associated with the
so-called impaired decision-making capabilities of the adolescent
Some intriguing recent academic work has proposed that adverse
youth outcomes are often the result of quick errors in judgment
and decision-making. In particular, hostile attribution bias—
hypervigilance to threat cues and the tendency to overattribute
malevolent intent to others—appears to be more common among
disadvantaged youths, partly because these youths grow up with
a heightened risk of having experienced abuse (Dodge, Bates, and
Pettit 1990; Heller et al. 2013). Some experts have consequently
begun promoting cognitive behavioral therapy for these youths
to help them recognize and rewire the automatic behaviors and
biased beliefs that often result in judgment and decision-making
errors. Promising results from several experiments in Chicago—
in particular, improved schooling outcomes and fewer arrests for
violent crimes—suggest that it is possible to change the outcomes
of disadvantaged youths simply by helping them recognize when
their automatic responses may trigger negative outcomes (Heller et
Figure 4. Adolescent Risk Behaviors by Family Income Level
Source: Kent 2009.
Note: Original data are derived from the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Adolescent risk behaviors are measured up to age eighteen, except for marijuana usage, which is measured up to age sixteen. Low-income families are those whose incomes are at or below 200 percent of the FPL. Middle-income families have incomes between 201 and 400 percent of the FPL. High-income families have incomes at or above 401 percent of the FPL.
Fact 5. Federal and state policies have driven up the incarceration rate over
the past thirty years.
The incarceration rate in the United States—defined as the number
of inmates in local jails, state prisons, federal prisons, and privately
operated facilities per every 100,000 U.S. residents—increased during
the past three decades, from 220 in 1980 to 756 in 2008, before
retreating slightly to 710 in 2012 (as seen in figure 5).
The incarceration rate is driven by three factors: crime rates, the
number of prison sentences per number of crimes committed, and
expected time served in prison among those sentenced (Raphael
2011). Academic evidence suggests that increases in crime cannot
explain the growth in the incarceration rate since the 1980s (Raphael
and Stoll 2013). However, the likelihood that an arrested offender will
be sent to prison, as well as the time prisoners can expect to serve,
has increased for all types of crime (Raphael and Stoll 2009, 2013).
Given that both the likelihood of going to prison and sentence lengths
are heavily influenced by adjudication outcomes and the types of
punishment levied, most of the growth in the incarceration rate can
be attributed to changes in policy (Raphael and Stoll 2013).
Policymakers at the federal and state levels have created a stricter
criminal justice system in the past three decades. For example,
state laws and federal laws—such as the Sentencing Reform Act of
1984—established greater structure in sentencing through specified
guidelines for each offense. Additionally, between 1975 and 2002,all fifty states adopted some form of mandatory-sentencing law
specifying minimum prison sentences for specific offenses. In fact,
nearly three quarters of states and the federal government—through
laws like the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986—enacted mandatory sentencing laws for possession or trafficking of illegal drugs. Many
states also adopted repeat offender laws, known as “three strikes”
laws, which strengthened the sentences of those with prior felony
convictions. These policies, among others, are believed to have made
the United States tougher on those who commit crime, raising the
incarceration rate through increased admissions and longer sentences
(Raphael and Stoll 2013).
The continued growth in the federal prison population stands in
contrast to recent trends in state prison populations. Between 2008
and 2012, the number of inmates in state correctional facilities
decreased by approximately 4 percent (from roughly 1.41 million
to 1.35 million), while the number of inmates in federal prisons
increased by more than 8 percent (from approximately 201,000 to
nearly 218,000) (Carson and Golinelli 2013). This increase in federal
imprisonment rates has been driven by increases in immigrationrelated admissions. Between 2003 and 2011, admissions to federal
prisons for immigration-related offenses increased by 83 percent,
rising from 13,100 to 23,939 (DOJ n.d.).
Figure 5. Incarceration Rate in the United States, 1960–2012
Source: Austin et al. 2000; Cahalan 1986; Carson forthcoming; Census Bureau 2001; Glaze 2010, 2011; Glaze and Herberman 2013; Raphael and Stoll 2013; Sabol, Couture, and Harrison 2007; Sabol, West, and Cooper 2010; authors' calculations.
Note: Incarceration rate refers to the total number of inmates in custody of local jails, state or federal prisons, or privately operated facilities within the year per 100,000 U.S. residents. The three events highlighted in this figure are examples of the many policy changes that are believed to have influenced incarceration rates since the 1980s. For more details, see the technical appendix.
Fact 6. The U.S. incarceration rate is more than six times that of the typical OECD nation.
The United States is an international outlier when it comes to
incarceration rates. In 2012, the incarceration rate in the United
States—which includes inmates in the custody of local jails, state
or federal prisons, and privately operated facilities—was 710 per
100,000 U.S. residents (Glaze and Herberman 2013). This puts the U.S.
incarceration rate at more than five times the typical global rate of 130,
and more than twice the incarceration rate of 90 percent of the world’s
countries (Walmsley 2013).
The U.S. incarceration rate in 2012 was significantly higher than those
of its neighbors: Canada’s and Mexico’s incarceration rates were 118
and 210, respectively. Moreover, the U.S. incarceration rate is more
than six times higher than the typical rate of 115 for a nation in the
Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD)
(Walmsley 2013). As seen in figure 6, in recent years incarceration rates
in OECD nations have ranged from 47 to 266; these rates are relatively
comparable to the rates seen in the United States prior to the 1980s. Indeed, mass incarceration appears to be a relatively unique and recent
A variety of factors can explain the discrepancy in incarceration rates.
One important factor is higher crime rates, especially rates of violent
crimes: the homicide rate in the United States is approximately four
times the typical rate among the nations in figure 6 (United Nations
Office on Drugs and Crime 2014). Additionally, drug control policies
in the United States—which have largely not been replicated in other
Western countries—have prominently contributed to the rising
incarcerated population over the past several decades (Donahue,
Ewing, and Peloquin 2011). Another important factor is sentencing
policy; in particular, the United States imposes much longer prison
sentences for drug-related offenses than do many economically
similar nations. For example, the average expected time served for
drug offenses is twenty-three months in the United States, in contrast
to twelve months in England and Wales and seven months in France
(Lynch and Pridemore 2011).
Figure 6. Incarceration Rates in OECD Countries
Fact 7. There is nearly a 70 percent chance that an
African American man without a high school
diploma will be imprisoned by his mid-thirties.
For certain demographic groups, incarceration has become a fact
of life. Figure 7 illustrates the cumulative risk of imprisonment for
men by race, education, and birth cohort. As described by Pettit and
Western (2004), the cumulative risk of imprisonment is the projected
lifetime likelihood of serving time for a person born in a specific year.
Specifically, each point reflects the percent chance that a man born
within a given range of years will have spent time in prison by age
thirty to thirty-four. Notably, most men who are ever incarcerated enter
prison for the first time before age thirty-five, and so these cumulative
risks by age thirty to thirty-four are reflective of lifetime risks.
Men in the first birth cohort, 1945–49, reached their mid-thirties
by 1980 just as the incarceration rate began a steady incline. For all
education levels within this age group, only an 8-percentage point
differential separated white and African American men in terms of
imprisonment risk (depicted by the difference between the two solid
lines on the far left of figure 7). As the incarceration rate rose, however,discrepancies between races became more apparent. Men born in the
latest birth cohort, 1975–79, reached their mid-thirties around 2010;
for this cohort, the difference in cumulative risk of imprisonment
between white and African American men is more than double the
difference for the first birth cohort (as seen on the far right of figure 7).
These racial disparities become particularly striking when
considering men with low educational attainment. Over 53
percentage points distance white and African American male high
school dropouts in the latest birth cohort (depicted by the difference
between the two dashed lines on the far right of figure 7), with male
African American high school dropouts facing a nearly 70 percent
cumulative risk of imprisonment. This high risk of imprisonment
translates into a higher chance of being in prison than of being
employed. For African American men in general, it translates into a
higher chance of spending time in prison than of graduating with a
four-year college degree (Pettit 2012; Pettit and Western 2004).
Figure 7. Cumulative Risk of Imprisonment by Age 30–34 for Men Born Between 1945–49 and
1975–79, by Race and Education
Source: Western and Wildeman 2009.
Note: Cumulative risk of imprisonment is the projected lifetime likelihood of imprisonment for a person born in a specific range of years. For more details, see the technical appendix.
Fact 8. Per capita expenditures on corrections more than tripled over the past thirty years.
In 2010, the United States spent more than $80 billion on
corrections expenditures at the federal, state, and local levels.
Corrections expenditures fund the supervision, confinement,
and rehabilitation of adults and juveniles convicted of offenses
against the law, and the confinement of persons awaiting trial
and adjudication (Kyckelhahn 2013). As figure 8 illustrates, total
corrections expenditures more than quadrupled over the past
twenty years in real terms, from approximately $17 billion in 1980
to more than $80 billion in 2010. When including expenditures for
police protection and judicial and legal services, the direct costs of
crime rise to $261 billion (Kyckelhahn and Martin 2013).
Most corrections expenditures have historically occurred at the state
level and continue to do so. As shown in figure 8, in 2010, more than
57 percent of direct cash outlays for corrections came from state
governments, compared to 10 percent from the federal government
and nearly 33 percent from local governments. Increased
expenditures at every level of government are not surprising given
the growth in incarceration, which has far outstripped population
growth, leading to a higher rate of incarceration and higher corrections spending per capita (Census Bureau 2001, 2013; Raphael
and Stoll 2013). Per capita expenditures on corrections (denoted by
the dashed line in figure 8) more than tripled between 1980 and
2010. In real terms, each U.S. resident on average contributed $260
to corrections expenditures in 2010, which stands in stark contrast
to the $77 each resident contributed in 1980.
Crime-related expenditures generate a significant strain on state
and federal budgets, leading some to question whether public funds
are best spent incarcerating nonviolent criminals. Preliminary
evidence from the recent policy experience in California—in
which a substantial number of nonviolent criminals were released
from state and federal prisons—suggests that alternatives to
incarceration for nonviolent offenders (e.g., electronic monitoring
and house arrest) can lead to slightly higher rates of property
crime, but have no statistically significant impact on violent crime
(Lofstrom and Raphael 2013). These conclusions have led some
experts to suggest that public safety priorities could better be
achieved by incarcerating fewer nonviolent criminals, combined
with spending more on education and policing (ibid.).
Figure 8. Total Corrections Expenditures by Level of Government and Per Capita Expenditures,
Source: Bauer 2003a, 2003b; Census Bureau 2001, 2011, 2013; Gifford 2001; Hughes 2006, 2007; Hughes and Perry 2005; Perry 2005, 2008; Kyckelhahn 2012a, 2012b, 2012c; Kyckelhahn and Martin 2013; authors' calculations.
Note: The dollar figures were adjusted to 2010 dollars using the CPI-U-RS (Consumer Price Index Research Series Using Current Methods). Population estimates for each year are taken from the Census Bureau's estimates for July 1 of that year. The figure includes only direct expenditures so as not to double count the value of intergovernmental grants. For more details, see the technical appendix.
Fact 9. By their fourteenth birthday, African American
children whose fathers do not have a high
school diploma are more likely than not to see
their fathers incarcerated.
In 2010, approximately 2.7 million children, or over 3 percent of
all children in the United States, had a parent in prison (The Pew
Charitable Trusts 2010). As of 2007, an estimated 53 percent of prisoners
in the United States were parents of children under age eighteen, a
majority being fathers (Glaze and Maruschak 2010). Furthermore, it
is not the case that these parents were already disengaged from their
children’s lives. For example, in 2007, approximately half of parents
in state prisons were the primary provider of financial support for
their children—and nearly half had lived with their children—prior
to incarceration (ibid.). Furthermore, fathers often are required to pay
child support during their incarceration, and since they make little
to no money during their incarceration, they often accumulate child
Figure 9 illustrates the cumulative risk of imprisonment for parents—
or the projected lifetime likelihood of serving time for a person
born in a specific year—by the time their child turns fourteen, by
child’s race and their own educational attainment (Wildeman 2009).
Regardless of race, fathers are much more likely to be imprisoned than are mothers. These risks of imprisonment are magnified when
parental educational attainment is taken into account; high school
dropouts are much more likely to be imprisoned than are individuals
with higher levels of education. Fathers who are high school dropouts
face a cumulative risk of imprisonment that is approximately four
times higher than that of fathers with some college education. An
African American child with a father who dropped out of high school
has more than a 50 percent chance of seeing that father incarcerated
by the time the child reaches age fourteen.
Young children (ages two to six) and school-aged children of
incarcerated parents have been shown to have emotional problems and
to demonstrate weak academic performance and behavioral problems,
respectively. It is unclear, however, the extent to which these problems
result from having an incarcerated parent as opposed to stemming
from the other risk factors faced by families of incarcerated individuals;
incarcerated parents tend to have low levels of education and high rates
of poverty, in addition to frequently having issues with drugs, alcohol,
and mental illness (Center for Research on Child Wellbeing 2008).
Figure 9. Cumulative Risk of Parent’s Imprisonment for Children by Age 14, by Race and Parent’s
Source: Wildeman 2009.
Note: Cumulative risk of imprisonment is the projected lifetime likelihood of a parent's imprisonment by the time his or her child turns fourteen. Children included in the analysis were born in 1990. For more details, see the technical appendix.
Fact 10. Juvenile incarceration can have lasting impacts on a young person's future.
After increasing steadily between 1975 and 1999, the rate of youth
confinement began declining in 2000, with the decline accelerating
in recent years (Annie E. Casey Foundation 2013). In 2011, there
were 64,423 detained youths, a rate of roughly 2 out of every 1,000
juveniles ages ten and older (Sickmund et al. 2013). Detained juveniles
include those placed in a facility as part of a court-ordered disposition
(68 percent); juveniles awaiting a court hearing, adjudication,
disposition, or placement elsewhere (31 percent); and juveniles who
were voluntarily admitted to a facility in lieu of adjudication as part of
a diversion agreement (1 percent) (ibid.).
Youths are incarcerated for a variety of crimes. In 2011, 22,964
juveniles (37 percent of juvenile detainees) were detained for a violent
offense, and 14,705 (24 percent) were detained for a property offense.
More than 70 percent of youth offenders are detained in public
facilities, for which the cost is estimated to be approximately $240 per
person each day, or around $88,000 per person each year (Petteruti,
Walsh, and Velazquez 2009).
In addition to these direct costs, juvenile detention is believed to
have significant effects on a youth’s future since it jeopardizes his or
her accumulation of human and social capital during an important
developmental stage. Studies have found it difficult to estimate
this effect, given that incarcerated juveniles differ across many
dimensions from those who are not incarcerated. Aizer and Doyle
(2013) overcome this difficulty by using randomly assigned judges
to estimate the difference in adult outcomes between youths sent to
juvenile detention and youths who were charged with a similar crime,
but who were not sent to juvenile detention. The authors find that
sending a youth to juvenile detention has a significant negative impact
on that youth’s adult outcomes. As illustrated in figure 10, juvenile
incarceration is estimated to decrease the likelihood of high school
graduation by 13 percentage points and increase the likelihood of
incarceration as an adult by 22 percentage points. In particular, those
who are incarcerated as juveniles are 15 percentage points more likely
to be incarcerated as adults for violent crimes or 14 percentage points
more likely to be incarcerated as adults for property crimes.
Figure 10. Effect of Juvenile Incarceration on Likelihood of High School Graduation and Adult
Source: Aizer and Doyle 2013.
Note: Bars show statistically significant regression estimates of the causal effect of juvenile incarceration on high school completion and on adult recidivism. For more details, see the technical appendix.