Are Prisons Schools of Crime? A Dose-Response Estimate of the Effect of Prison Peers on Reoffending

Are Prisons Schools of Crime? A Dose-Response Estimate of the Effect of Prison Peers on Reoffending

The issue of whether prison sentences decrease or increase crime is far from settled, largely due to the difficulty associated with isolating the potential mechanisms that might operate in the prison environment. Deterrence and rehabilitation theories argue that the prison experience should reduce crime, whereas oft-posited, yet sparsely tested, theories argue that prisons are “schools of crime” in which peer influence breeds future offending. With data from Pennsylvania for a first-time adult release cohort and their cellmates, this project estimates a dose-response effect of peers on reoffending, thus shedding light on an important mechanism that contributes to the effect of imprisonment on those who experience it.

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