Manasi Deshpande, Michael Mueller-Smith, 05 July 2022

Cuts to welfare programmes have historically been motivated by concerns that they can discourage educational achievement and work. This column uses the natural experiment of the 1996 welfare reform law in the US to examine the effect of welfare programmes on a different type of ‘work’: criminal activity intended to generate income. The authors find that removing young adults from the US Supplemental Security Income programme increases criminal justice involvement, and especially illicit income-generating activity. While the programme does indeed discourage formal employment among young adults, its much larger effect is to discourage criminal activity.

Jason Baron, Max Gross, 12 June 2022

There is a well-documented correlation between foster care and crime, but little evidence on the long-term consequences of placing a child into foster care or leaving them with their family. Using data from the state of Michigan, this column estimates the causal effect of foster care placement on adult crime. Foster care placement reduced later-in-life crime, especially for male children and younger children. Foster care protects children from subsequent abuse and neglect and improves school performance. Birth parents also make improvements while their children are temporarily in foster care.

Jason Baron, Joshua Hyman, Brittany Vasquez, 04 June 2022

Policymakers often propose better funding for public schools as an early intervention to reduce adult crime, yet little causal evidence of its effectiveness exists. This column uses novel data on over one million students in Michigan to study this relationship, finding that greater school funding has a large causal effect on the likelihood of adult arrest. This is most likely driven by the positive effects of greater school funding on school quality, including better paid and more experienced teachers, and is not due to peer effects. The increase in school funding pays for itself, creating social benefits that exceed the cost. 

Andrés Barrios-Fernández, Jorge García-Hombrados, 09 April 2022

Between 30% and 50% of individuals sentenced to prison are reincarcerated in the two years after their release. Neighbourhood institutions that former inmates encounter after prison may play a role in encouraging crime desistance. This column examines the link between Evangelical church openings in Chile and reincarceration rates in the surrounding neighbourhoods. The opening of an Evangelical church in the neighbourhood significantly reduces 12-month reincarceration rates among recently released young inmates, suggesting that local institutions can provide a support network that helps former inmates cope and find work.

Nicholas Bloom, Leonardo Iacovone, Mariana Pereira-López, John Van Reenen, 25 February 2022

The implications of poor management in developing countries are becoming well known, but what drives these differences is less clear. Based on large new surveys in Mexico and the US, this column argues that misallocation is a key driver of these differences. Frictions from low competition and weak rule of law appear to lie behind the difficulties even well-managed firms in Mexico have in growing, especially in the services sector. These results point to the importance of open and contestable markets, improving contract enforcement, and lowering crime and corruption as key mechanisms to improve firms' management and productivity.

Anna Bindler, Nadine Ketel, 06 February 2022

The costs and consequences for offenders of crime are well-documented, but much less is known about victim-related costs. Using unique and detailed register data from the Netherlands, this column finds that being a victim of crime leads to a significant and persistent loss in earnings and increase in social benefit receipt, and shorter-lived responses in health expenditure. While these findings have important implications about the social cost of crime, more high-quality data is needed to fill the knowledge gap and to learn about important policy lessons. 

Steffen Andersen, Gianpaolo Parise, Kim Peijnenburg, 10 April 2021

The demographics of criminality are changing, with the share of crimes committed by older adults rising in developed countries. This column uses administrative data from Denmark to better understand late-in-life determinants of crime – specifically, severe health shocks. It finds that a cancer diagnosis can incite criminal activity, and argues that social support should be made widely available to vulnerable segments of the population in the wake of the Covid health crisis, when even people with previously clean records could find themselves drawn into illegal behaviour.

Hâle Utar, 28 March 2021

The Mexican Drug War, including the ostentatious killings and the targeting of civillians, has been amply covered in the media. What is less known are the economic impacts of the violence, particularly at the firm level. This column presents evidence from Mexican firms, focusing on the differing experiences of ‘blue-collar’ and ‘white-collar’ organisations. The results suggest that violence can cause a negative labour supply shock, particularly in sectors that more frequently employ lower-skilled female workers.

Mette Foged, Linea Hasager, Giovanni Peri, 20 March 2021

The labour market integration of refugees and immigrants is key to their ability to contribute to the economy of the receiving country and to enhancing the fiscal sustainability of more open immigration policies. Using the quasi-random assignment of Danish refugees to language training, this column shows that language acquisition significantly increased the lifetime earnings of refugees. Refugees with language training became more likely to work in communication-intensive jobs and obtained additional education. The positive effects are transmitted to the next generation in terms of improved schooling outcomes for male children of refugees.

Andrea Colombo, Ilan Tojerow, 07 March 2021

Decentralisation can help build trust in institutions by giving constituents a more transparent view of local decision makers and a hand in shaping public services. This column examines the impact of reforms that introduced the direct election of mayors to a region of Belgium in which mayors also lead the local police force. The region saw a statistically significant decrease in crime following the reform, but those effects were diluted when neighbouring municipalities shared policing responsibilities, thereby obscuring the window onto outcomes and offsetting the benefits of direct elections.

Monica Deza, Catherine Maclean, Keisha Solomon, 14 November 2020

The correlation between mental illness and crime has been widely documented. In general, individuals with poor mental health are more likely to be involved with crime, either as an offender or as a victim, compared to other individuals. This column presents evidence from the US, arguing that policies that grant support to mental healthcare may have long-term positive effects on crime rates. Since crime is a complex outcome, a flexible and varied policy response is essential to tackling the issue.

Paolo Pinotti, 01 August 2020

Understanding the economic incentives and consequences of crime is an important area of research with immense policy implications, but it is not without challenges. This column summarises new evidence from studies on the causes and consequences of crime in Italy, focusing on recent improvements that address challenges related to the measurement of crime and to the identification of a clear effect of crime on economic outcomes.

Lena Edlund, Cecilia Machado, 27 June 2020

The urban renewal that transformed many US inner cities may have hit its first major speed bump with the outbreak of Covid-19. The ‘space versus commute’ trade-off has been thrown into doubt and confusion by work-from-home orders. This column draws on socioeconomic history, arguing that a mass exodus of skilled professionals to the suburbs could have major implications for inner city areas. Although this could spell the return to the homicidal days of the 1980s, the authors argue that this may not be the case – the reason being: cell phones and how they have impacted illicit drug retailing.

Theodoros Rapanos, Marc Sommer, Yves Zenou, 06 February 2020

Information and social norms matter in people’s decisions whether to commit crimes. Strategic interactions in networks influence the gap between the actual and perceived risks and costs of being caught. The column sets out a game framework in which the expectations of potential criminals are influenced by their peers. Surprisingly, severing these information links – even between relatively active offenders – does not necessarily lead to a decrease in the aggregate level of crime.

Anna Bindler, Randi Hjalmarsson, 27 January 2020

Determining whether increased policing reduces crime is a difficult task, in part because policing affects crime and crime also affects policing. This column approaches the problem historically, asking whether the introduction of the first professional police forces in the 19th century, from the London Metropolitan Police onwards, reduced crime. It finds that when police forces were sufficiently large and well-regulated, they had a crime-reducing effect that, while not immediate, did persist over time.

Francesco Drago, Roberto Galbiati, Francesco Sobbrio, 24 December 2019

Assessing how voters respond to public policies they like or dislike is challenging due to the absence of counterfactual scenarios. This column exploits a collective pardon of prisoners in response to prison overcrowding in Italy in 2006 to show that voters punish incumbent politicians for unpopular policies they are deemed responsible for. Regions with greater incidents of recidivism were those where incumbent politicians fared more poorly in post-pardon elections.

Vladimir Otrachshenko, Olga Popova, José Tavares, 22 December 2019

There is evidence that hot climatic temperatures and crime are linked. With climate change raising temperatures around the world, it is possible we may see higher levels of personal aggression. Based on data from Russia, this column shows that on hotter days, women are more likely to be killed in homicides, especially over weekends. Colder days have no similar effect on violence. Lower wages and higher unemployment contribute to higher homicide rates, so policies promoting employment may mitigate victimisation during extreme temperature days.

Vincenzo Bove, Leandro Elia, Massimiliano Ferraresi, 25 August 2019

Between 2014 and 2017, more than 600,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean and took up residence in Italy. Though crime rates during the same period continued to drop, a majority of Italians report feeling increasingly unsafe. This column investigates how immigration affects the perception of crime and the allocation of resources. Using detailed Italian government-spending figures along with municipal-level data on the population of foreign-born residents, it finds that immigration led to increased spending for police protection due not to higher crime rates but to the deterioration of social capital and unfounded fears of criminality.

Christian Dippel, Michael Poyker, 06 August 2019

The first private prison in the US opened in 1984. Over the next three decades, the imprisoned population increased by 194% while the country’s overall population increased by only 36%. This column examines the relationship between these two events, asking whether the growth of the private prison industry contributed to climbing incarceration rates. It concludes that private prisons moderately increased sentence lengths but not the likelihood of conviction, and finds no evidence that private prisons directly influenced judges or exacerbated existing racial biases in the judicial system.

Ignacio Munyo, Martín Rossi, 30 June 2019

An increasing number of cities worldwide use surveillance cameras to prevent crime, but little is known about whether these cameras reduce crime or simply move it to other locations. This column studies the impact of a large-scale introduction of police-monitored cameras in Montevideo, Uruguay. The findings indicate a 20% reduction in crime in areas of the city where the cameras are located, with no evidence of a displacement effect. The programme also appears to offer value for money compared with other security and crime prevention measures.

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