Intergenerational and Spillover Effects of Incarceration
(Crime, Justice, and Drugs)
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Incarceration is a watershed moment in a person’s life. When imprisoned, they are unable to freely participate in social and labor market activities. Beyond the effect of incapacitation on the individual, separation from families and communities could have significant consequences for the people they leave behind. This panel features four papers that work to understand the effects of incarceration on children, families, and communities.
The first two papers focus on the direct effects of a parent’s absence by examining how the incarceration of a parent affects their children’s education and labor market outcomes. Both papers leverage the random assignment of judges to defendants to provide exogenous variation in parental incarceration. As judges vary in their tendencies to give harsh or lenient sentences, this produces causal estimates of the effect of parental incarceration on children in two different settings. First, in Columbia, incarceration of a convicted parent leads to increased educational attainment. This effect is especially strong for boys, parents convicted of a violent crime, and those with incarcerated mothers. When looking at the incarceration of fathers in Finland, the second paper finds the opposite effect. There, children of incarcerated fathers appear to have decreased labor force attachment and decreased probability of obtaining a degree by age 19.
The second two papers focus on the United States, where the sharp increases in incarceration rates since 1970 have made understanding the spillover effects of incarceration a question of particular policy importance. The third paper uses a simulated instrument that exploits state policy changes in sentencing laws to estimate the causal effects of marginal changes in the incarceration of black men on black women and children’s outcomes. High incarceration rates increase the proportion of nonmarital births and increase the share of children living in a single mother household. Children in these areas are less likely to attend college and have a higher income gap between them and their white peers. The fourth paper focuses on one specific state sentencing law change in North Carolina, leveraging women’s differential exposure to the resulting changes in male incarceration rates. Here, increased male incarceration leads unmarried and young, black women to reduce or delay their fertility. While white women are less likely to be married, there is no effect on marriage probability for black women.
Together, these papers highlight that incarceration can have diverse effects on families and communities depending on the broader context. Who is the defendant on the margin of receiving a prison sentence? Similarly, who is the marginal man affected by a sentencing law? The effect of incarceration depends on the answers to these questions. By examining a variety of settings, this panel will increase our understanding of the intergenerational and spillover effects of incarceration.