Peer Effects in the Criminal Justice System

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 10:15 AM – 12:15 PM

Hyatt Regency Chicago, Plaza B
Hosted By: American Economic Association
  • Chair: Philip Cook, Duke University and NBER

Neighborhood Effects on Youth Crime: Natural Experimental Evidence

Gabriel Pons Rotger
,
Danish National Centre for Social Research
George Charles Galster
,
Wayne State University

Abstract

We investigate the degree to which criminal offenses committed by disadvantaged youth and young adults are influenced by their neighbors, identifying causal effects with a natural experimental allocation of social housing apartments in Copenhagen. We show that the neighbors most strongly influencing youth criminal behavior are primarily those with drug criminal records living in the housing development, not those identified by other characteristics or those living in a larger geographic area. The higher the concentration of drug criminals among neighbors, the higher the probability that youths will be charged with any crime (especially a property crime) and the higher the number of drug-related charges youths will face over a two-year period. We find that it takes at least a year of exposure for such effects to be manifested, and that neighbors with drug records reduce the propensity of youth to move, thus trapping them in more criminogenic contexts. Finally, we provide evidence that neighbors with drug criminal charges do not affect first-time youth offending and group youth offending behaviors.

“No Hatred or Malice, Fear or Affection”: Media and Sentencing

Aurelie Ouss
,
University of Chicago
Arnaud Philippe
,
Toulouse School of Economics

Abstract

This paper investigates the effect of media on criminal justice decisions. Exploiting the exact timing of trials and news stories, we look at the effect on sentencing of television broadcasting of (unrelated) crime and criminal justice current events stories. We find that in criminal courts, where juries include laypeople, sentences are on average 3 months longer for verdicts on the day after media coverage of crime. Conversely, sentences are shorter after coverage of judicial errors. These effects are limited in time and driven by the news: sentences increase with television exposure to crime and not crime itself, and the effect tapers off quickly. When only professional judges and no laypeople make decisions, these do not vary with media content, suggesting that professionalism mitigates the effect of domain-pertinent but irrelevant external information. Our results indicate that media can positively and negatively influence decisions on the short run, by changing what is top of the mind, beyond capturing deeper changes in offending or societal concerns about crime and criminal justice. Our findings highlight the influence of noise in the news cycle: it can temporarily and reversibly affect important outcomes, beyond the longer-term changes in behaviors or persuasion effects of differential supply of news. This even applies for a very private and non-strategic decisions: jurors secretly choosing a sentence.

Politics in the Courtroom: Political Ideology and Jury Decision Making

Shamena Anwar
,
RAND Corporation
Patrick Bayer
,
Duke University and NBER
Randi Hjalmarsson
,
University of Gothenburg

Abstract

This paper uses data from the Gothenburg District Court in Sweden and a research design that exploits the random assignment of politically appointed jurors (termed nämndemän) to make three contributions to the literature on jury decision-making: (i) an assessment of whether systematic biases exist in the Swedish nämndemän system, (ii) causal evidence on the impact of juror political party on verdicts, and (iii) an empirical examination of the role of peer effects in jury decision-making. The results reveal a number of systematic biases: convictions for young defendants and those with distinctly Arabic sounding names increase substantially when they are randomly assigned jurors from the far-right (nationalist) Swedish Democrat party, while convictions in cases with a female victim increase markedly when they are assigned jurors from the far-left (feminist) Vänster party. The results also indicate the presence of peer effects, with jurors from both the far-left and far-right parties drawing the votes of their more centrist peers towards their positions. Peer effects take the form of both sway effects, where jurors influence the opinions of their closest peers in a way that can impact trial outcomes, and dissent aversion, where jurors switch non-pivotal votes so that the decision is unanimous.

Hanging Out With the Usual Suspects: Peer Effects and Recidivism

Stephen Billings
,
University of Colorado
Kevin Schnepel
,
University of Sydney

Abstract

Social interactions within neighborhoods, schools and detention facilities are important determinants of criminal behavior. However, little is known about the degree to which neighborhood peers affect successful community reentry following a prison or jail sentence. This paper measures the influence of pre-incarceration social networks on recidivism by exploiting the fact that peers may themselves be locked up and away from the neighborhood when a prisoner returns home. Using detailed arrest and incarceration data that includes residential addresses for offenders in Charlotte, North Carolina, we find consistent and robust evidence that a former inmate is less likely to reoffend if more of his peers are held captive while he reintegrates into society. These peer effects are increasing in the degree of social connectivity as measured by residential proximity, past criminal relationships and attribute (e.g. age, race, gender) similarity. We find that one less criminal peer of the same age, race, and gender in the neighborhood over the first year post-release is associated with a five percent decrease in the probability of arrest.
Discussant(s)
Ana Piil Damm
,
Aarhus University
Mark Hoekstra
,
Texas A&M University and NBER
Philip Cook
,
Duke University and NBER
Benjamin Hansen
,
University of Oregon and NBER
JEL Classifications
  • K4 - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior